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Panel Urges Effort to Strengthen Science Capabilities in Developing Nations - 2004-02-06


An international panel of scientists is urging a global effort to strengthen the science and technology capabilities of countries so they can address their critical needs. The group's focus is on improving research in developing nations to help them fight scourges like poverty, hunger, and disease.

A group called the InterAcademy Council based in Amsterdam says scientific and technological advances are occurring at a dizzying rate and are driving forces in the world. But it notes that research benefits are unequally distributed throughout the world.

The council is a four-year-old grouping of 90 national science academies, including that of the United States.

In a new report delivered to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday, the panel calls on public and private sector decision makers to form a global movement to build scientific and technological capabilities in all nations, especially poor ones.

"It is no longer brawn but brains that make up the bulk of wealth around the world today," said the InterAcademy Council's co-chair is Ismail Serageldin of Egypt's Alexandria Library. At U.N. headquarters in New York, he pointed out that rich nations invest 220 times more per capita in science and technology than poor ones, and warned that this ratio must change.

"There is a serious risk that business-as-usual will exacerbate the divide as the 'haves' and 'have-nots' become entrenched among the 'knows' and 'know-nots,' those who know and those who simply consume," Mr. Serageldin went on to said.

The InterAcademy Council encourages governments to develop national science and technology strategies to conquer poverty, hunger, disease, and other social problems.

These strategies, it says, should attract human talent and develop first rate research institutions with resources based on merit. The council says nations should create incentives for private sector participation because business is responsible for two-thirds of all research investment.

To complement national efforts, the group calls for creative new ways of financing science and technology building.

Panel member Mamphela Ramphele of South Africa, the World Bank's managing director for human development, says the group believes the new report will cause multilateral development agencies and bilateral donors to take a new look at the importance of building up science and technology in their financing plans.

"The use and the focus on science and technology will enhance development effectiveness if you build the capability of people to be able to tackle their own problems. We believe science and technology will add value to the way we do development," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Annan accepted the InterAcademy Council's recommendations by encouraging their translation into actions. "I hope the council and the wider world scientific community will build further on this foundation, in partnership with the United Nations and its agencies, other international and regional organizations, and, of course, the world's governments," he said. "This is how the potential of science and technology can be realized in the struggle to improve the human condition."

The head of the U.N. Development Program, Mark Brown, calls the report a wonderful undertaking.