Road risk in Kazakhstan is the highest of any EASST countries. In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated the country’s road fatality rate as 24.2 per 100,000 of the population, significantly higher than the average global rate of 17.4.
When building new highways and improving road infrastructure, therefore, it is crucial that road safety is high on the agenda. As such, in conjunction with the EBRD’s South West Corridor Road Rehabilitation project, EASST’s Kazakh partners, the Common Road NGO, are delivering a Safe Villages campaign in six local villages where the road improvement works are taking place.
In July 2016, following a series of meetings at national and regional levels and gaining support from authorities and road police, EASST advisor, Serghei Diaconu, along with Arsen Shakuov from Common Road and Susan Wildau of the EBRD visited each of these villages and met with over 150 village representatives to discuss and raise awareness of the main road risk factors in the area and the preventative measures that can be taken against road traffic collisions.
Communication between local residents and authorities up till now has been very poor, with villagers not having the awareness nor opportunity to present issues that concern them, and their lives. Villagers’ were therefore given the opportunity to report any concerns or complaints about the road works, as well as contributing to the solutions, through a series of public meetings which were then followed by road safety awareness training. The public meetings were highly valued, offering a great chance for local people to get involved in making their roads safer as well as encouraging authorities to take an interest in issues important to residents.
For instance, in the past six-months there have been two serious collisions on the stretch of road that by-passes the small neighbouring villages of Kensahara and Sarjansay. High levels of speeding in the area are of particular concern to local residents, who at one of the recent public meetings were able to voice their concerns to regional authorities and police, and call on them to act. Local villagers presented data proving the road’s high crash rate and highlighted that despite a signpost signalling the speed as 60km/hr, traffic frequently passes at speeds of over 100km/hr. Police explained that the sign, which has a blue background, is only a recommended speed and not a requirement in that area. However, all agreed that action was needed to prevent any future crashes. As a result the police and road authorities have promised to introduce an official speed limit of 80km/hr and install signs that forbid overtaking on this stretch of road in order to make the road safer.
Other issues that were raised in each of the villages was the lack of winter snow clearance and maintenance of the roads and the absence of convenient designated cattle crossings, which for these rural villages are essential and present significant road risks.
During the subsequent, road safety training, the project team noticed a significant lack of awareness amongst participants regarding the importance of being visible on the roads, which is an issue for both pedestrians and livestock. In addition to being advised to wear brightly coloured clothing when walking at night, over 600 high-visibility wristbands were given out across the villages – including bands for animals!
The project has highlighted the enormous value of local consultation during large-scale road infrastructure projects and recommends that in any such situation, a preliminary road safety audit including the identification of local villagers’ needs should be conducted with high importance.