Brussels, 07 Jan 2005
Members of the UK academy of science the Royal Society were given a preview of a report by the UN Millennium Project task force on science, technology and innovation on 6 January, and told that efforts to alleviate poverty in developing countries will be futile if science is ignored.
An overall report on progress towards achieving the Millennium Development goals, set at a UN summit in 2000, along with reports from ten task forces focusing on sectoral and thematic areas relating to the goals, will be presented to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 17 January. Details of the science and technology section were provided in London by Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University in the US and coordinator of the science, technology and innovation task force.
'A nation's ability to solve problems and initiate and sustain economic growth depends partly on its capabilities in science, technology and innovation,' said Professor Juma. He referred to the devastation caused by the recent tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, saying that previous investment in existing technologies, particularly in an early warning system, could have reduced the scale of the disaster. '[T]he sum required to establish an early warning system now looks pitifully small compared to the cost of the disaster in terms of the tens of thousands of lives lost and the billions of dollars of damage caused,' he said.
Professor Juma also issued a call for governments and international organisations to appoint scientific advisors. 'It is inconceivable that the eight goals can be achieved by 2015 and that gains can be made in health and environmental concerns without a focused, science, technology and innovation policy,' he said. He invited the UN to 'lead by example' by appointing a scientific advisor to the Secretary-General.
The professor also indicated the scientific fields that his task force considers 'platform technologies' with 'profound implications for long term economic transformation'. Information and communications technology (ICT), biotechnology, nanotechnology and new materials are the key here, and can also be harnessed to improve quality of life, the report will state.
Responding to Professor Juma's comments, the Royal Society's Vice President and Foreign Secretary, Professor Julia Higgins, called for action from the UK and other developed countries. The UK now has the presidency of the G8, the group of the world's seven most industrialised countries plus Russia, and therefore has an opportunity to underline how crucial science is to tackling the problems of poor nations, said Professor Higgins.
Professor Higgins also lamented the fact that a speech by UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown on the same day on alleviating poverty in Africa contained no mention of science and technology. 'We hope that the Prime Minister, Chancellor and other ministers will consider carefully the important messages contained in the forthcoming [UN report],' concluded Professor Higgins.