The Role of Transport in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)

The relationship between transport and poverty is not always explicitly acknowledged; more often than not, it is implicitly assumed in the need to create greater access to employment opportunities, educational and health facilities, agricultural development, social inclusion and networking. It is this cross sectoral nature that makes transport investment such a critical catalyst in the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals.

At the Millennium Summit September 2000, the states of the United Nations agreed upon the MDG as a framework for measuring development progress. The goals focus the efforts of the world community on achieving significant, measurable improvements in people’s lives, establishing yardsticks for measuring results, not just for developing countries but for rich countries that help to fund development programmes and for the multilateral institutions that assist in their implementation.

Despite the pervasive influence of transport on the efficiency and effectiveness of other sectors, its contribution to economic growth, and its significance in terms of government and donor spending (transport is the largest sector in EU and World Bank operations), the MDG make scant reference to its importance in the development process. Where reference is made, for example below in a 2004 MDG Needs Assessment by the Millennium Project, the understanding of the role transport plays in development is weak and focuses on roads at the expense of understanding the more complex demands of improving mobility and access.

“There is no specific MDG target on improving the provision of transport infrastructure. However, transport infrastructure, which includes road networks, rails systems and ports, allows agricultural communities to access both domestic and international markets, facilitates school attendance by children in remote areas, enables the government to provide public services cheaply and effectively, and lowers the cost of private enterprise. It is therefore, a necessary input into multiple goals, including Target 1 on halving the number of people living in absolute poverty, and a precondition for economic growth itself.”

The Millennium Development Goals Needs Assessment, Country Case studies of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda.
Working paper, January 04

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 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 difficult. 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 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 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.

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 pollution, deforestation and contribution to urban sprawl. 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 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 woutside 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 marks 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.

IFRTD's 2005 Annual Report gives special focus to the relationship between transport and the Millennium Development Goals. Click here to download the report (Acrobat 1.3MB)

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More resources on Transport and the MDGs:
     Transport: a Critical


        by Kate Czuczman
        Published in Public
        Service Review
        Winter 2003.
        (Acrobat PDF 365 kb)

     Transport – the missing

        Forum News
        Issue 11.2, 2003, IFRTD
        (Acrobat PDF 102 kb)

     Making Transport Work for
     the Poor,

        Forum News
        Issue 10.3, 2003, IFRTD
        (Acrobat PDF 473 kb)

Making Transport Work for
     the Poor
        by Peter Njenga
        Published in Public
        Service Review
        Winter 2003
        (Acrobat PDF 525kb)

IFRTD Annual Report 2005 - Special emphasis on the links between transport and the MDGs (Acrobat 1.3MB)

Related Issues:
     Transport and Health
     Transport and HIV AIDS

Other Issues
     Animal Traction
     Children’s Mobility
     Community Participation
     Cross Border Trade
     Mobility as a Human Right
     Rural Roads
     Transport Hubs
     Transport Services

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