Points of Progress: US traffic deaths decline for third year, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the June 15, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Traffic deaths in the United States fell by 1.2% in 2019, declining for the third straight year even as overall travel increased, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Deputy Administrator James Owens said NHTSA has kept up momentum by “focusing on the behaviors that we all know are unsafe: failing to wear a seat belt, speeding, driving while impaired.” Pedestrian deaths have been a recent concern. Some blame distracted driving for a 3.4% spike in 2018, but early data suggest that pedestrian and bicyclist deaths dropped by 2% and 3% respectively last year. According to a report by the National Safety Council, open roads have invited more reckless driving during the pandemic, with fatality rates up in March even as total deaths fall below 2019 figures. As states begin lifting stay-at-home orders, NHTSA is planning to ramp up public awareness efforts, reminding motorists to return to the road with caution. “Now is the time to remember all the safe driving practices that you had,” Mr. Owens said. (Reuters, National Safety Council)

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
Traffic travels along Solana Beach, California. Reports say traffic deaths in the United States fell for the third straight year.

2. Brazil

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

An indigenous tribe in Brazil is deploying drones to monitor remote forests and detect unauthorized loggers and land-grabbers. After being trained as drone operators in December 2019, members of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe, in cooperation with local leaders, are already finding conservation success. A recent aerial scouting discovered 494 acres of land were being deforested in the tribe’s reserve in Rodonia state. “Without a drone, that deforestation – which was already advanced – would still be unknown to us,” said Bitate, a local tribal leader. The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe has been gradually adopting modern technologies since its first contact with the outside world in the 1980s. As drones have become more affordable, more indigenous communities in Latin America are using them to protect their rainforests. (Thomson Reuters FoundationFast Company)

3. Antarctica

Using a satellite, British scientists have created the first wide-area maps of 500 acres of microscopic algae growing along the Antarctic Peninsula. These observations will help scientists determine if these vast blooms, which play a crucial role in cycling nutrients through the local ecosystem and pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, are increasing or decreasing. The green algae captured by this team absorb 500 metric tons of carbon a year. While easily visible to researchers on the ground, the blooms are patchy, widely dispersed, and can change day to day depending on environmental factors. From orbit, it’s typically difficult to discern the photosynthetic organisms against the highly reflective snow and ice. But high-fidelity detectors on the European Union’s Sentinel-2 mission spacecraft were able to make out the green discoloration, and researchers say mapping possibilities will expand with the launch of more open-data satellites. (BBC)

4. Israel

Pnina Tamano-Shata is the first Ethiopia-born government minister to be appointed in Israel. Ms. Tamano-Shata, a member of the centrist Blue and White Party under Benny Gantz, is the new immigration minister of the 35th Knesset, the national legislature of Israel. On May 17, Israel swore in a new unity government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz, ending a political crisis that had lasted 510 days. The 140,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community is among the poorest in the country, and experiences high rates of unemployment and discrimination, according to the BBC. However, many second-generation Ethiopian Israelis have secured high-ranking positions in the military, judiciary, and politics. “For me, this is a landmark and the closing of a circle,” said Ms. Tamano-Shata, who came to Israel in the 1980s as part of a mission that evacuated Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during a famine caused by civil war. (BBC, The Jerusalem Post)

5. Burundi

Burundi, one of Africa’s poorest countries, held a key democratic presidential election on May 20, largely without incident. President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, had remained in power for the past 15 years, who many say has committed grave human rights abuses with impunity. In 2015, Mr. Nkurunziza extended his presidency for a third five-year term, which led to weeks of violence and turmoil. Last year, Mr. Nkurunziza, to the surprise of many, announced that he would step down before his authoritarian presidential term ended, although he would remain as a “paramount leader,” a term that has yet to be defined. On election day, an estimated 4 million Burundian voters cast ballots among seven presidential contestants, according to the election commission. On May 25, the ruling party’s candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, was announced as the winner, securing 69% of the vote. (Reuters, The New York Times, Africa News)

Berthier Mugiraneza/AP
Ruling party presidential candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye casts his vote in Burundi on May 20, 2020. Days later, he was announced the winner.

6. China

After years of conservation efforts, critically endangered Hainan black-crested gibbons, the world’s rarest primates, have eased off the brink of extinction. In 1950, roughly 2,000 Hainan gibbons lived on a namesake island off China’s southern coast. By the 1970s, there were fewer than 10. But conservationists are seeing a glimmer of hope for the primate as the Hainan gibbon population climbs above 30 and birthrates stabilize. Since 2003, the Hong Kong-based group Kadoorie Conservation China has focused on protecting the critically endangered species from poaching and on restoring the primates’ island habitat. While the gains seem small, the organization’s senior conservation officer reports that of 19 recognized species of gibbons, the Hainan gibbon is the only one experiencing growth. Next, the group hopes to speed up reproduction and expand the gibbons’ habitat so the species becomes more resilient. (South China Morning Post)

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