Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The Levant region and Lebanon in particular has scored 148th out of 148 countries in the ‘public trust in politicians’ category according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2013. The region is characterized by long years of dictatorship, when decisions were monopolized by the government with no response to citizens’ needs or complaints. This has in turn produced passive citizens who are not aware of their rights to express their grievances, and who feel disillusioned about the government’s decision making process. These issues of citizens’ concerns and government responsibility also apply when it comes to road safety and maintenance.
Road hazards are one of the top ten leading causes for death in the world. Previous efforts to alleviate road hazards in the Levant region involved citizens, passengers and drivers themselves to apply safety measures. However, there have been no endeavors in the Levant region to address the government’s equally shared responsibility to reduce vehicle accidents.
The Middle East and North Africa ranks as the second highest region in the world for its road fatality rate, recording a disturbing 21.3 deaths per population of 100,000. Statistics for the Levant region in particular indicate high levels of traffic accidents and deaths, and dangerously hazardous roads. According to the World Health Organization's Road Safety Report, the mortality rate in road accidents per 100,000 persons in 2010 was 22.9 in Jordan, 22.3 in Lebanon, and 22.9 in Syria. The same report also mentions that in the Levant countries of Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon road safety audits and inspections are rare or do not happen at all. In Lebanon, during the year 2010 over 10,000 car crashes took place with more than 500 fatalities and 8,000 injured and/or disabled.
The lack of focus on road management has hurt the Levant countries financially and socially in addition to impeding tourism. For the case of Lebanon, the direct medical cost of treating road traffic injuries is about 3.6 million U.S. dollars per year. The economic cost of road traffic accidents was estimated by international sources at 1.5% of the Gross National Product (GNP). Since road traffic injuries affect mainly males (73 percent of deaths) and those between 15 and 44 years old, this burden is creating enormous economic hardship due to the loss of family breadwinners.
On the other hand, media coverage and reporting of road traffic accidents, injuries and mortality rates blames the issue on citizens’ behavior, such as speeding or driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, with little or no recognition of poor road maintenance and government responsibility.
There are laws in the Levant region, as in the rest of the world, which hold citizens accountable to the government when destroying or vandalizing public property. On the other hand, there are no clear laws in the Levant region for holding the government accountable for the harm citizens suffer as a result of vehicle accidents that have been caused by poor road conditions.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In a society unfamiliar with voicing its rights or holding authorities accountable, Elie is creating a new culture for engaging citizens in the local decision making process and pressuring governments to be responsive and responsible. Recognizing road safety as an important need but also as a neutral issue, he is using it to initiate non-confrontational communication between citizens and the government, bringing both to an equal playing field in the Levant region.
Elie has created a platform that allows citizens to easily and quickly express their concerns in an informal yet professional manner. This communication is channeled to local governments and serves as catalyst for dialogue between citizens and the government. Instead of feeling disillusioned and disempowered by the government, Elie is creating an opportunity for citizens to be engaged and for the government to be seen as an ally. Starting in Lebanon, a region that has been plagued by government mistrust, his work brings both key players together for the first time. More than just voice their concerns, citizens feel that they are helping the government to understand the local concerns and thus feel involved in the decision making process, thereby changing the way the public confronts and resolves problems caused by government negligence.
With a clear three-step process of reporting concerns, generating awareness and collecting public opinion around those concerns, and then monitoring government response, rewarding municipalities that take quick action, Elie’s new idea has been easily spread throughout municipalities around Lebanon. He plans to replicate the methodology to other social issues such as street garbage and electricity and spread his work to other countries throughout the Levant region and the Arab world.