Trinidad and Tobago is not a healthy place, so how do we expect to be productive?
We are leaders in the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region. Heart disease accounts for 25 per cent of all deaths annually while diabetes and hypertension each account for 12 per cent of deaths. The contributing factors include being overweight/obesity, lack of regular exercise, and some completely avoidable stresses of a chaotic transportation system.
There are neither quick fixes nor easy solutions to these problems. There is a World Health Organisation (WHO) report titled “What Ministries of Transport Need to Know”, and I wonder if it is available to our Cabinet ministers because our ministers have clearly missed the concept that “transport is strongly linked with health, development and the environment”.
There is no question that an effective transportation system that increases access to work, education and health care will positively impact our population. If pupils did not spend so much time getting to and from school, there would be more time available to engage in sports or other productive activities, and just maybe redirect them away from drugs and crime.
If parents didn’t spend so much time in traffic, they might just be motivated to prepare healthier meals for themselves and their families. Healthy foods and a balanced diet directly result in improved health.
If we all spent less time on the roads and in traffic, we might all be encouraged to be active and become engaged in more physical activity.
If we had an organised transportation system, Trinidad and Tobago would reduce its carbon emissions and help mitigate climate change and environmental damage.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has not even bothered to create a Transportation Authority to regulate the chaos which now prevails on our roads. As recently as March 17, 2021, Dr Trevor Townsend, who was at the time a senior lecturer at The UWI, said: “Trinidad and Tobago needs a national Transit Authority to govern the public transportation sector and protect commuters like 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, who it is alleged lost her life at the hands of a ‘PH’ driver.”
Our leaders continue to ignore the evidence that poorly managed transportation systems adversely impact safety, health and productivity.
The National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases outlines the strategic direction, but never references the role of transportation. We continue to miss the mark when we take a siloed approach to governing.
If we truly believe the health of a nation is a fundamental determinant of the quality of life of its citizens, and therefore an instrument of development, then we must make every effort to create the policies and frameworks which will nudge our citizens in the direction of making positive lifestyle choices. Transportation is a quality-of-life issue that can have a significant positive impact on our health and productivity.
After World War II ended in 1945, Japan was hardly able to feed its population, but they realised the importance of transportation and refocused their journey to continue developing the dream train. Today, Japan leads the world in the development of fast trains. I don’t expect us to do the same, but we must develop and implement a transportation framework that will positively impact our own development.