Why is transport so important for the SDGs?

22nd October 2015
Improved transport has been recognised as an important enabler for development, but Gary Forster, Chief Executive of Transaid, argues that now it’s time for practitioners to broaden their horizons and communicate better with their non-transport counterparts.

Investment and improvement in transport services and infrastructure are crucial to achieving the majority of the SDGs. Without investment, it’s difficult to imagine India attaining Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture where fruit and vegetable post-harvest losses amount to 40% of total production due in part to a lack of reliable rural transport options. Equally, lessons can be learned from transport programmes in other countries, such as in Ethiopia where investments in road quality have led to an increase in agricultural production by 27%.

Pineapples to market

Similarly, investment in transport provision is essential for the achievement of Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. For maternal mortality alone, systematic reviews of evidence have shown that referral and transport strategies, alongside other interventions, can contribute to as much as an 80% reduction in maternal mortality . In Uganda, integrating transport initiatives into maternal health programmes increased institutional deliveries by 62% .

Beyond health and agriculture, children and teachers need to get to school (Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all), men and women need to get to work (Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls & Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all), citizens need to be able to travel safely (Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages & Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable), and products need to reach their markets quickly and cost effectively (Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all & Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation).

Has transport been adequately addressed in the SDGs?

Transport practitioners were left wanting with the MDGs, as there was no explicit mention of any aspect of transport or of the global public health crisis that road crashes represent.

The SDGs have generated a mixed response from engineers, logisticians and road safety experts of the international development sector. Some argue that the inclusion of targets 3.6 (to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents) and 11.2 (providing access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems for all, etc.) provide an adequate mandate for focussing on improving transport. Others ask for more specific goals around urban transport infrastructure, passenger services, and ambulance provision. Bike ambulance

Where do we go from here?

Whether we (transport practitioners) are satisfied with the SDGs is actually not that relevant because our efforts should now focus on understanding how to share our knowledge and expertise with other international development practitioners in order to achieve these targets. So we know that transport is important, indeed an enabler, for achieving a number of the SDGs. We can see how transport has been integrated into the SDGs and know that these goals will not change for the next 15 years. So now is the time to start implementing activities which will make real impact on the ground and take us all closer to achieving the SDGs. But where do we start?

In my opinion, the first thing we (transport practitioners) need to do is get out and speak to organisations and individuals who are tackling the SDGs; public health advisors, education professionals, agriculture experts. We need to learn about the challenges they face and see if there are transport solutions which we can offer. We need to understand the way that transport interacts with so many aspects of development; for example road crashes cause loss of life, place a severe burden on public health budgets, and increase insurance costs for transport operators. The first of these is obvious but you’ll only hear the second by speaking with the accident and emergency director at the national hospital, and only the third by speaking with the transport operators who underpin a nation’s economy.

Many have highlighted the fact that transport is an enabler rather than an end in itself. Yet, too often, transport conferences seem to be full of only transport professionals, while health conferences discuss maternal referral systems and agriculture conferences discuss fertilizer distribution without a transport expert in the room. It is for this reason that knowledge sharing is one of Transaid’s core values. There has been a growing recognition of the importance of knowledge sharing throughout the development sector with organisations such as The World Bank and DfID actively championing the value of good knowledge sharing. In an attempt to encourage knowledge sharing in the transport and development sector, Transaid has recently launched its online Knowledge Centre and is working with partners across all sectors to make them aware of the case studies, tools and training materials which are held within. Unlike other sectors, we transport professionals have an opportunity to contribute significantly to the achievement of almost all of the SDGs. If we broaden our horizons and partner with our colleagues in other sectors, we can help change the world.