A Science and Innovation Policy for Lebanon

A five-year Science, Technology and Innovation Policy was launched in Beirut on 27 April 2006 by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Sanioura.

The Policy sets out to create high-quality jobs and investment opportunities, at a time when 'Lebanon runs the risk of losing out on two of its most valuable assets': people and capital, both of which are 'wandering abroad'. The aim is to boost economic growth by reducing the national debt burden of about US $36 billion (170% of GDP), one of the world's highest in relation to population - Lebanon has 3.8 million inhabitants -, and to offer investment options for capital currently invested abroad by Lebanese banks.

In parallel, job creation in industry and services should absorb the large number of qualified Lebanese graduates who are either unemployed or underemployed in their home country. One-third of 18-25-year olds attend university, half of them women.

Lebanon's role as a regional centre for quality learning, economic development, trade, tourism and healthcare will be developed by strengthening institutions and nurturing partnerships between the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), universities and centres, on the one hand, and between these and private enterprise and public agencies on the other. One recommendation concerns the establishment of a Knowledge Gateway Industry Lebanon, which would combine a database and Technology Promotion Units at each of the major universities and research centres to help small and medium-sized enterprises in particular to articulate their needs and benefit from these institutions' expertise and resources. Sectoral centres of excellence (real or virtual) will also be set up for manufacturing sectors, such as clothing, shoes and furniture.

Technology will be used in more efficient and creative ways to add value to production and services which, in turn, should reduce Lebanon's huge trade imbalance. Targets include reducing industrial operating costs and improving productivity, harnessing ICTs for development (just 14% of the population had access to Internet in 2003) and establishing new industries. Key existing industries include banking, food processing, jewellery, cement, wood and furniture products, textiles, mineral and chemical products, and oil refining.

Agriculture represents about 12% of GDP, employs 9% of the workforce and provides a large share of raw products for industry. By 2007, the country expects to have eliminated methyl bromide, a fumigant used to control a wide range of pests that is dangerous for both human and animal health. This should clear the way to greater exports of foodstuffs.

Iron ore, limestone and salt figure among Lebanon's natural resources. The country is also in the enviable position of having a water surplus in a region deficient in water. Environmental concerns include deforestation, soil erosion and desertification, as well as coastal water pollution from raw sewage and oil spills. The Policy seeks to improve management of energy, water, coastal regions and other natural resources by adopting an integrated, sustainable approach. Public and Professional Information Units will be set up in new or existing centres of excellence to report on research on coastal zones, water, new agricultural opportunities; and food quality.

Healthcare is to become a pillar of the Lebanese economy. In creating an environment conducive to a flourishing biomedical industry and services sector, the aim is to 'resume Lebanon's position as a regional leader in the field of medicine and healthcare through improving higher medical and science education, and through improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of medical and healthcare'.

The Policy sets out a strategy for broadening Lebanon's participation in regional and wider international networks. It recommends, for example, increasing the representation of the outside world on steering committees and advisory boards of universities and institutes. Closer ties are also to be forged with the country's sizeable diaspora.

UNESCO set in motion the formulation of a science policy for Lebanon three years ago. The report launched in April reflects the work of four task forces led by UNESCO consultant Peter Tindemans and involving 30 prominent Lebanese scientists as well as international experts. The Policy is published by the CNRS, a key partner in the endeavour. Substantial input has also come from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization.

Lebanon is lacking in statistical data on the state of science, innovation and technology, so the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and ESCWA will be helping the CNRS to establish an observatory, the first task of which will be to identify a set of indicators for monitoring the country's performance.

Lebanon was ravaged by war from 1975 to 1990. By 2002, per capita income had climbed to US$ 4 552 (purchase power parity dollars) from $3 178 in 1995. Life expectancy stands at 72 years and the population is growing at a rate of 1.2%, well below the average for the Arab world of 2.3%.

Read the report: www.cnrs.edu.lb/stip/stip.htm

Read about the draft Arab Plan of Action for Science and Technology (2011) (in Arabic)

Read about the ongoing reform of STI Policy in Iraq (2011)

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