Darfur's Biggest Safety Problem


Imagine a poor African country. Adults are unemployed and children are malnourished. Malaria and tuberculosis are major problems. River blindness afflicts young and old. Crime is everywhere. What do these people need? Ah yes, more helmet laws. Two physicians explain in today's Washington Post:

Now it's time to ignite action on another compelling global problem: deaths from injuries…

Few of the lessons we have learned in industrialized countries have been applied to other parts of the world: requiring cars to be built so that they protect the passenger in a crash; requiring and enforcing the use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets; controlling speeding; and vigorously pursuing drunk drivers.

Hey, here's a wacky idea: Before making blanket policy recommendations to poor countries, consider the fact that said countries are poor. What do people in the developing world drive when they can afford to drive? At least some of them drive our old cars, or some recombination of ancient car parts of dubious origin—cobbled together monstrosities of engines and metal that somehow manage to run. Where there are new cars, they're often built cheaply and by our standards shoddily. Requiring cars to be up to Western standards might mean safer cars. It might also mean no cars. But I guess that's a good thing, given all the manpower "requiring and enforcing the use of seat belts" is going to take in countries with no manpower to spare.

Brian Doherty slammed Mozambique's WHO-funded "buckle up" campaign back in 2002.

NEXT: The Amazing Colossal Poorhouse

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  1. Grant money?

  2. Well hey, we all know those poor people are poor precisely because they lack our wonderful regulatory infrastructure. The sooner we get all our crazy laws in place over there, the sooner they’ll all start living in suburban bliss and shopping at the mall down the street.

  3. Who benefits from the Nanny State’s safety regulations? Certainly not emergency doctors. Somebody who hates emergency doctors is behind the laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmuts. But it’s more–a lot more–than just personal animosity. Seatbelt laws have already greatly reduced the role of emergency medicine. Any doctor who wants to specialize in emergency medicine knows from the get go that he or she will be driving a lower-end car than a dermatologist. It’s a safe bet that the same collectivist social engineering that targets emergency medicine is behind the melanoma hysteria. Does anybody really believe that the income disparity between emergency doctors and dermatologists is just an accident of the free market? Once you become aware of the dermatology conspiracy, everything begins to add up. Just ask yourself one question: who benefits? DERMATOLOGISTS!

  4. not to mention that phillips head screws are a conspiracy to justify doubling the number of screw drivers sold by tool manufacturers.

    It worked so well, they moved on to allen head, robertson head, torx head and clutch head.

    How are poor countries to afford all of those?

    Who knows what evil they will think up next…

  5. They can always use the helmets as soup bowls.

  6. Actually tomWright, the Robertson (or Square) head is the greatest invention since the wheel.

  7. I bet the biggest threat to third world counties is the lack of GFCI receptacles withing six feet of a water supply. I wonder how many people in these countries have perished when their radio fell into the water while they are taking a hot bath after a grueling day of shopping at the outlet malls. I know, scary.

  8. SetUp: They should probably also move the outlet malls away from water. (Assuming that’s where people are buying those non-GFCI outlets).

  9. Oh, HELMETS. I thought the saftey regulations required motorcyclists to wear HELMUTS, i.e., Germans, on their heads. Well, that is a different kettle of fish.

  10. They don’t have fish.
    They’re poor, remember?

  11. I just found out that cutting bagels causes more injuries in the kitchen than any other activity. It’s a shame too, because I was going to send several tons of bagels over to Darfur for hunger relief. There is no way I can do that in good conscience now.

  12. These people have no roofs over their heads because they have no roof inspectors, people!

  13. Finkelstein, I think you’ve got it.

    In that case, they certainly need more health inspectors and food inspectors.

    Yes, yes that must be the answer.

    I know, let’s ship ours over there, where they can do more good!

  14. wsdave,

    I disagree. I still say it is a conspiracy.

    Next you will deny that hurricanes are not a conspiracy of the lumber and building industries. All started by rich europeans centuries ago when they invaded North America in response to the deforestation of Europe. You never heard the word hurricane until europeans landed in North America did you? well, there’s your proof!

  15. So, helmet laws have nothing to do with the helmets at a helmet party?

  16. Way off base. In Nairobi, the jitney cabs are required to have speed governors to prevent them going more than 80 kph. It’s done little to make them safer. I don’t see any such governors imposed on US commercial vehicles (although some private trucking firms have installed them for insurance reasons.)

    In Uganda, on the other hand, there is a requirement (rigidly enforced) that every passenger on a commercial vehicle have a seatbelt. This has put an end to the practice of overloading buses with people standing in the aisles and so on. It’s hugely popular with the passengers, despite the theoretical increase in fares it leads to. If you’ve ever ridden on buses in neighboring countries, Uganda’s are a haven of safety and comfort.

    In the US, I remember being crammed three to a seat on my school bus, which vehicles still do not have seatbelts in many jurisdictions. On city buses there are still overhead bars to hang on to for when the bus doesn’t have enough seats. Perhaps the learned physicians should write an angry editorial demanding that US public transport be brought up to the stringent standards imposed by the Ugandan government.

  17. KEN BACON: Yes. The sad irony is that, since the peace agreement was signed in May, the violence has increased pretty much throughout Darfur, and it’s increased in three fundamental ways.

    The first is there is increased fighting among the rebel groups, particularly between the one group that signed it, the Minni Minnawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, and the factions that didn’t sign. There were two rebel groups that didn’t sign, one that did sign. So you have inter-factional fighting.

    The second is there’s much more banditry taking place. There’s a total breakdown of law and order. So cars are being stolen. More cars of NGOs have been stolen in the last two weeks than in the previous two years, for instance.

    And, finally, there’s much more violence within the camps. The camps have become more politicized. They’ve become more militarized. They’ve become more armed and much more violent.

    So the poor people who have come into the camps to escape violence are now finding that there is violence in the camps. But most of that violence is being aimed at the African Union peacekeepers and at humanitarian workers. And I think this partly reflects a great deal of dissatisfaction with how things are working out, a lot of frustration…

    [The African Union force] really has very limited effectiveness for a couple of reasons. One, it was never set up to be a peacekeeping force. It was set up to be a cease-fire monitoring force, but there’s never been a cease-fire that’s held.

    So the people expected them to protect them, but they didn’t come there with a mandate to protect anybody except themselves. And they’ve barely been able to do that. So the African Union force has been pretty much a disappointment. Everybody says the key to peace is to bring in a much larger, more capable U.N. force. And that’s really something that has to happen if we’re to end this violence in Darfur…

    This is a crisis that has really lived by its own terms. And the real tragedy here is that, while this has been a real disaster for the people of Darfur, it’s been somewhat of a humanitarian success, in that the U.N. has moved in and it’s feeding almost three million people a day in Darfur, half the population of Darfur.

    That’s why the people in some of these pictures look so healthy: There’s not a food shortage in Darfur.

    All of that can be jeopardized now. The U.N. said that, because of the increased violence, it’s finding it much harder to reach people. It’s reaching less than 80 percent of the people it has to feed now. That’s the lowest number, the lowest percentage since 2004. So we’re actually sliding backwards, after several years of improving humanitarian coverage, we’re beginning to slide backwards. That’s a real tragedy.

  18. I was going to send them all or these muffin stumps.

  19. or = of

  20. “all” would have been more generous

  21. ooooh, I wuv how da Gummint twies to help me…. Like after 3 beers and I lose my bike around a corner because some fool spilt oil on the frign road yet had to wait 12 hours to go to hospital, so as not to lose licence, cop fine and go to gaol. Thanx Gummint, I might have bled to death. But Doctors are REQUIRED BY LAW to breathalyse any people who have had a vehicular accident. Yep, really helped me!

  22. Shorter Kerry Howley: everywhere outside the US is a howling wasteland, entirely inhabited by Teh Dark Peoples!!1!! who drive Mad Max-style rolling wrecks around their famine-crippled, flyblown shanty towns while waving Kalashnikovs and stealing famine relief aid. Law and order in such hellholes is as ridiculous as demanding proper grammar in a kindergarten.

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