Transport and the Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by the member states of the United Nations (UN) at the Millennium Summit in 2000, as a framework for measuring development progress. The eight goals make little or no explicit reference to transport despite the pervasive influence of transport on the efficiency and effectiveness of other development sectors. For example we know that transport infrastructure and services have a demonstrable influence on:

  • The timely and affordable delivery of basic services including: health, education, water, sanitation and information.
  • The facilitation of economic growth through international, regional and national trade.
  • The empowerment of vulnerable groups such as women through a reduction of time spent on domestic tasks.
  • Links with the market economy and the outside world: Transport connects communities to markets and information, puts isolated people in touch with services and representatives, sustains important social networks and enables freedom of movement.
  • The accessibility, speed, cost and viability for transport of people, goods and produce.

If we look in even greater depth at each of the MDGs in turn, the catalytic role of transport becomes even clearer:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Three quarters of the world's chronically hungry live in rural areas, so enabling farmers to grow more food is an effective means of reducing hunger and poverty. Investments in improved transport infrastructure and services can be effective in lowering input prices, increasing agricultural production, enabling timely and low-cost transportation/processing of crops and reducing the monopoly power of agricultural traders by facilitating access to markets. Food security is also determined by purchasing power and therefore by the level and location of employment opportunities. Transport investments not only facilitate access to employment they also create employment.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education. Getting to school in rural areas is costly in time, energy and money. Drop out rates are high and attracting and retaining quality teaching staff in rural schools is influenced by accessibility. The distance between home and school, the lack of appropriate, affordable infrastructure and transport services to make the journey, and the time required to do so, are all constraints to this goal. Improved mobility can also relieve the domestic burden that is a barrier to attendance, particularly for girls.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women. Women often carry a heavier burden in terms of time and effort spent on transport. They often have less access and control over resources and fewer opportunities than men to use transport technologies. By focusing more investment in the infrastructure and services used by and appropriate to women, their time poverty can be dramatically reduced. Improved mobility empowers women to take more control over their lives by increasing their access to markets, their exposure to education and information, their opportunities to participate in income generation, community and political activities, and by levelling the balance of equality in gender relations.

Goals 4 and 5: Reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. More than 60% of people in poor countries live more than eight kilometres from a healthcare facility and there is a clear association between infant, child and maternal mortality rates and distances to health care services. Improvements in mobility have shown measurable impacts such as a rise in the immunisation of children.

Factors conducive to good maternal and child health such as antenatal and postpartum care, birth in the presence of a skilled attendant, and the availability of emergency obstetric services are compromised by distances and poor route condition to reach referral health services, and limited, inappropriate, expensive transport services. Long, slow journeys act as a deterrent to healthcare seeking behaviour by enforcing breaks in subsistence activities and loss of wages. Meanwhile the poor handling and positioning of patients, particularly pregnant women, during transportation can lead to critical secondary injuries.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDs Malaria and other diseases. Transport costs are a major impediment to anyone seeking or supplying sustained healthcare treatment. Immunisation and disease control programmes are compromised by disruption to the safe and timely delivery of vaccines, and poor access prohibits the repeat attendance of patients.

The spread of HIV/AIDS has been exacerbated by the increased mobility of individuals and transport employees. Transport hubs, road corridors, and locations of infrastructure construction and maintenance represent locations of high HIV/AIDS risk.

Local-resource-based transport infrastructure works can reduce the mobile workforce infection risks.

Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability. Environmental degradation has a much greater impact on the livelihoods of the poor by increasing their vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters. Transport has a poor environmental record: greenhouse gas emissions, noise and dust pollution, poor road safety, deforestation, contribution to urban sprawl and non-sustainable use of construction materials. Yet transport also provides huge potential for minimising its externalities and developing environmentally sustainable technologies . The promotion of more sustainable public transport and non motorised vehicles, the intelligent use of available materials (particularly road surface options), improved maintenance of assets and the development of traditional waterways can all contribute to a greener tomorrow.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development. Transport provides the links between rural areas and the outside world. It forges a life-link between rural communities and their markets, puts isolated people in touch with their representatives, sustains important social networks, and in general helps to empower communities and individuals by delivering freedom of movement. By providing and sustaining opportunities for rural access, transport is a key catalyst for a global partnership for development.

2007 Forward

2007 marked the half way point to the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, and as donor priorities have shifted to align with the MDGs some bi-lateral agencies are choosing to move away from transport altogether. In this context the transport sector has, to-date, been pre-occupied with justifying its relationship with poverty reduction and it's cross-sectoral contribution to delivering the MDGs.

In April 2005 a declaration by African Ministers responsible for transport and infrastructure recognised the importance of the role of transport and infrastructure in the realisation of the MDGs. The declaration set goals specifically relating to mobility, road safety and the environment, for achievement by the 2015 deadline. This included a pledge to reduce by half the proportion of the rural population living beyond 2km of an all season mode of transport in Africa. A working paper by the African Development Bank, World Bank and European Union established a framework of transport indicators that deliver against the MDGs.

Meanwhile new cross-sectoral programmes such as IFRTD's Mobility and Health international networked research programme are promoting collaboration between sectors to address the MDGs. The Mobility and Health programme draws upon bi-lateral funding from both the health and transport sectors.

Some MDG related initiatives are starting to address transport as a cross cutting issue. For example the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an initiative headed by Jeffrey Sachs at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and overseen by the United Nations Millennium Project, works to deliver integrated packages of development interventions to 12 pilot villages in Africa. Transport is now firmly on the agenda of MVP and although initial investments are road focused there is an indication that services will also be addressed. One village has already been provided with a modified truck to both carry cargo and serve as an ambulance.

It is important now that the transport sector build on this momentum and move forward from merely raising awareness about the relationship between transport and the MDGs to a focus on the accountability of the transport sector to actually delivering the MDGs and the responsibility of other development sectors to systematically integrate transport issues into their agenda.

Basic Access Strategies have the potential to have a widespread and rapid impact to improve the performance of social and economic development initiatives.



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Updated March 2010