The importance of the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund establishing and operating its own dedicated Emergency Response Unit, can not be overemphasised. Regardless whether one agrees or disagrees with the contested report of last year that ranked Namibia as the most dangerous country to travel in, road crashes take a very considerable toll with a huge economic impact. Sadly, our own statistics show that young people bear the weight and that the vast majority of fatalities and injuries happen to victims under the age of 45.
I have pointed out in previous commentaries that there are a number of uniquely Namibian attributes that contribute to our appalling accident statistics. Some of the more obvious factors are the very long distances, roadworthiness, speed, alcohol, inexperienced drivers, overloading and a general disregard for road etiquette. But there are also some factors that are not so easily defined or anticipated, for instance the random crossing of animals, rapidly changing conditions especially just before and after downpours, roads unfamiliar to the driver, fatigue of the driver, surface condition especially on gravel roads, and distractions to the driver originating from other occupants inside the vehicle.
We can analyse our proven lack of road safety in many ways. Ultimately I believe this is a function of the National Road Safety Council and that more progressive and aggressive strategies and interventions should come from this body. What we can not get around, is that yes, we probably are the most unsafe country in the world when it comes to road safety. Leading from this, what we definitely can not escape, is the financial burden that flows from serious accidents.
It is easy to calculate the physical damage to vehicles and to property. The cost of treatment, recuperation and rehabilitation can also be determined fairly accurately. It is merely a matter of adding up all the expenses following an accident. We can even get our minds around calculating loss of income, debilitation and loss of productivity. These types of calculations are done all the time by actuaries for life insurance companies to cover their future liabilities. Even in the case of trauma, or forfeited income, the actuaries have access to very sophisticated models that predict these outcomes at least to a level of accuracy that enable insurers to survive the risks they cover.
It is a far more complex calculation to attempt to benchmark the wider impact of vehicle accidents. How does one measure the contribution of a young person whose life is cut short, when that individual had the potential to be a future president. Our how is it possible to quantify the loss to infants when one or both their parents have been killed or debilitated in a car crash? How does one measure grief? What predictive model is there to determine the psychological impact on society stemming from the subliminal fear that I may lose my life every time I venture onto the road?
Suffice to say, the accumulated damages from an accident are arguably far higher than only the recognisable, quantifiable direct and indirect costs. We need to accept this fact.
That is why I find it so commendable that the MVA Fund has embarked on a process where emergency response is placed on a sound operational footing with adequate funding to ensure that a culture and a professional ability to handle emergencies, slowly develops both in coverage, i.e. availability, and in depth, i.e. competence and capacity.
I sense that the MVA Fund, coming from a background of insolvency, has realised that it is rather useless to debate the nature and effects of accidents from a moral point of view. Regardless who is right or who is wrong in an accident, there are always victims and there are always costs. Ten years ago the MVA Fund was not in a position financially to entertain such considerations. Today it is.
Its contribution to mitigate the impact of an accident, is a financial one, and that should be its only mandate. The good or the bad of accidents must be left to other institutions to sort out. And one of the more practical means of reducing cost is to strengthen the structure that helps victims. This is where emergency response comes in and it is extremely important. Fast and effective treatment on the scene, I believe, holds significant cost benefits further down the line. Fast evacuation helps faster access to specialised treatment, not only saving more lives, but reducing both the cost and the time of convalescence.
The next step would be to establish a comprehensive medical response capability on those roads that carry the heaviest traffic, and later an emergency evacuation service that covers the entire country.