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New Study Shows Link between Transport and Health in Arequipa

Study by health, transport and safety experts shows key problems in road safety, exposure to air pollution and physical inactivity. Photo via EMBARQ.org.

Arequipa’s transport system affects the health of its residents, leading to 320 traffic fatalities over three years, fostering regular walking and biking rates of only 9.9 percent, and contributing to dangerous air pollution levels that far exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, according to a new study by EMBARQ Andino, a member of EMBARQ’s global network (the producer of this blog.)

“Public health – and the happiness of Arequipans – are inextricably linked to how we get around the city,” says Jorge Jara, director of EMBARQ Andino. “By creating more sustainable forms of transport through bus rapid transit, biking and walking, and designing safe road facilities, Arequipa can reduce the problems of traffic crashes, harmful exhaust and sedentary lifestyles caused by an onslaught of automobiles.”

The report, Moviéndonos hacia una Ciudad Saludable (“Moving Us Towards a Healthy City,”) provides an overall assessment of public health in Arequipa. The study was prepared by EMBARQ’s Director of Health and Road Safety Claudia Adriazola and Assistant Project Manager Ben Welle, in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The study involved three measurements—for road safety, physical activity and air quality—in the city, overall, and specifically along the new BRT trunk corridor in the city center, built as part of the planned System of Integrated Public Transport – Arequipa (SIT-AQP). Here is a summary of the main findings:

  • From 2007 to 2009, in all of Arequipa there were 2,288 crashes involving 5,128 people, 320 deaths and 1,081 serious injuries. Of those killed, 59 percent were pedestrians. Along the future trunk BRT corridor, there were 350 crashes and 321 fatalities or injuries.
  • Only 9.9 percent of residents citywide were found to regularly walk for transport; only 3 percent walked enough for leisure to gain health benefits; and only 3 percent of residents biked enough to improve their health.
  • Air pollution levels for PM 2.5, a harmful mix of fine particulate matter in vehicle emissions, were found to have a 24-hour mean of 0.195mg/m3 along a route of five key future bus stations and within the buses themselves. This is well above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 0.025mg/m3.

The report is part of an ongoing project that will measure these same factors after the SIT-AQP project is implemented. In the last three years, the Provincial Municipality of Arequipa has been transforming the city’s transport network through the SIT-AQP, which aims to create an integrated transit system with 11 modern and efficient private operators, construct a new high-quality BRT corridor, renew public transit fleets, and build new bicycle and walking infrastructure.

While the report does not provide policy prescriptions, it is a snapshot into the local public health issues related to urban transport, and it shows how the SIT-AQP is an opportunity to confront these health issues through improving road design for pedestrians, providing higher quality mass transport, reducing the number of polluting vehicles and providing safer and more attractive ways for residents to walk and bike.

“The SIT-AQP is an enormous opportunity for Arequipa to reorient itself around people instead of cars,” Jara says. “By doing so, we can improve the health of residents, improve the environment, and also make the city a more pleasurable and attractive place to live and do business.”

“We have already seen the public health benefits of actions like the pedestrianization of Mercaderes Street in the city,” he added. “This report shows the opportunity for moving us further down this road. It’s clear that urban development and sustainable transport projects save lives.”

About EMBARQ Andino:

Established in November 2008, EMBARQ Andino is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting transport projects and sustainable mobility with a special focus on public health. Its main project has been implemented in the city of Arequipa, aimed at developing an integrated mass transit system, promoting new bicycle paths and pedestrian streets, and increasing accessibility to transport in low-income areas.

EMBARQ Andino is part of a global network, based in Mexico, Brazil, India, Turkey and the Andean Region, that catalyzes environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities.

About PAHO:

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is an international public health agency with more than 100 years of experience in working to improve health and living standards of the countries of the Americas. It serves as the specialized organization for health of the Inter-American System. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and enjoys international recognition as part of the United Nations system.

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  • Anonymous

    Clearly a safe infrastructure for walking and cycling would help increase the number of people using active transportation, with health and air pollution benefits.  It’s truly important that we make these transportation modes safe, given our increasing laziness about physical activity. We can’t afford to have pedestrian and cycling accidents partially offset the reduced suffering and economic costs attributable to motor vehicle crashes.