Interview with Mina Brajović, Head of the WHO Office in Montenegro
Daily Vijesti, 23 April 2014
During fourth High Level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment, organized April 14-16, 2014, in Paris, a report - ‘Unlocking new opportunities: jobs in green and healthy transport’ drafted by the Regional WHO Office for Europe and UNECE was presented. This report underlines that investments in ‘green’ and healthy transport are actually investments made in health, protection of the environment, and economic growth.
Q: Could you tell us more about the Report recently published by the WHO and UNECE?
BRAJOVIĆ: The report states that investments in ‘green transport’ in big European cities, aiming to introduce bicycle transport model like the one in Copenhagen, would result in 76000 new jobs throughout Europe. This is conservative assessment, in terms of new jobs, because just one big city within the EURO region countries was covered by the Report. New jobs would be generated in bicycle retail and maintenance sectors, as well as in retail chains selling bicycle equipment and clothing, and in area of urban development and new mobility programmes.
Benefits from urban bicycle transport are multiple and diverse - improving air quality, reducing fuel consumption, promoting physical activities, reducing urban noise levels, as well as reduced number of fatalities and injured in traffic accidents.
According to survey results, investments in ‘green’ transport would save 10.000 human lives.
Each year 90.000 people die in traffic accidents. Transport contributes with 24% of total green house gas emissions in Europe and North America.
Furthermore, estimates show that due to air pollution, caused predominantly by transport, some half a million lives are lost every year. There are increasing evidences showing that air pollution represents far greater health risk than thought before, and especially when it comes to coronary diseases and stroke.
The current transport policy concept is responsible for almost million casualties in Europe alone, as it encourages physical inactivity, which is closely related to obesity pandemic.
Q: The obesity is often perceived as one of the main threats of modern way of living. The green transport obviously links directly to healthy lifestyles. Could you tell us more about this link?
BRAJOVIĆ: Obesity is one of the biggest health challenges of the 21 century. Obesity has tripled during 80’s in majority of European countries, especially among adolescent population, and it continues to rise at alarming pace. Data are showing that in Europe 1 out of 3 11 year olds is obese or overweight. In Montenegro we have the similar situation. Just to remind you, obesity is one of the key risk factors for occurrence of a number of chronic non communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
In Europe, almost 9 out of 10 persons are dying from cardiovascular diseases, or chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, diabetes, or mental disorders. Now we know for sure that our health depends, to a great degree, from factors out of health care sector reach, as well as that transport policy and urban planning concepts are predominantly determining the health of a given population.
Therefore, total transport related costs, which have an impact on the environment and public health go even up to 4% of the national GDP.
Q: Are there any comparative indicators with Montenegro?
BRAJOVIĆ: The same Report says that if we were to reach 26% share of bicycle transport in the overall transport in Podgorica, as in Copenhagen, we could count on 189 new jobs, and save 20 human lives.
The Reports points out that in Copenhagen, almost 50% of its residents are using bicycles to go to work or school, while the share of bicycle transport in the overall transport in the city is 26%. Thanks to such a high share of bicycle use, as a mode of transport, premature death rate has been reduced for 30% among those Copenhagen residents who regularly use bicycle to go to work.
Only Amsterdam can beat Copenhagen when it comes to popularity of bicycle transport, because 33% of all city trips are done by bicycle. Green and healthy transport is quite popular and practiced in Berlin (13%), Bern (11%) and Ljubljana (10%), while in other big European cities this share rarely exceeds 3%.
Q: And how would long term predictions look like?
BRAJOVIĆ: ‘Green’ and healthy transport is a vision European countries will aspire to achieve, and it is also prerequisite of sustainable life for all, as defined by recently adopted Paris Declaration. This will be possible only if ‘green’, healthy, and active transport, health, and environment are integrated in special and urban planning policies. Realization of these goals requires strong partnerships between health sector, transport, sustainable development, as well as active engagement of local authorities and support of civil society, especially young people.
Q: What would be your conclusion, or recommendation?
BRAJOVIĆ: The fact that environment is causing a quarter of all diseases implies how important is to work on promoting and securing healthy and safe environment. We need to invest in primary prevention. WHO surveys have confirmed that investments in sustainable, active transport are cost-effective as on every dollar invested we can generate savings of 3-30 US $.
‘Green’ transport policy is imperative for modern societies. Healthy transport, in terms of safety and use of sustainable modes of transport, such as regular walking and cycling represent an important health indicator, which clearly reflects progress achieved in area of urban and social equality, protection of environment, and sustainable development.
Promotion of physical activity, daily walks and cycling, represent integral segment and key factor in terms of prevention and cure for chronic non communicable diseases. We need to change our mindset. Healthy and active life style must become popular and socially acceptable way of life.