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I.3  Science in Response to Basic Human Needs


Scientific research as an essential means of meeting society’s needs in food, water, energy, health care, shelter, safety and the alleviation of poverty.

Chair: Eduardo Moacyr Krieger President, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Brazil
Rapporteur: G. Thyagarajan Scientific Secretary, ICSU/COSTED; India

Session co-ordinator: G. Thyagarajan Scientific Secretary, ICSU/COSTED; India
Local secretary: J. Banczerowski Office of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.



Scientific capabilities in the research on basic needs for development

Eduardo Moacyr Krieger
President, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Brazil

Science is an essential means of meeting society’s needs for food, water, energy, health care, shelter, safety and alleviation of poverty. Science is produced through the existence of the "scientific establishment", formed by the group of institutions, persons and resources directly involved in the production of new knowledge accordingly to certain "internal" rules and procedures.

Recently we all became aware that Science, as other social activities, is the product of the interaction of a complex set of factors that must be understood both in its internal logic as well as in its relation to other fields of human activity.

We are here to discuss a new commitment in a worldwide scale. However, for us in the developing world it is paramount to establish our own agenda. First of all we should be aware that we must unite efforts in order to enhance our endogenous capacity to generate our own solutions for our own problems. This implies that we must orient our efforts towards the establishment of a set of priorities that take into consideration our specific needs and not only reflects those priorities that are fundamental in the North. Nevertheless this does not imply that we should give up the intent to participate actively of the frontiers of Science or encourage the extinction of our incipient scientific communities. The challenge is to redirect the institutional and intellectual assets that we possess into a new role adjusted to the globalized world, without having to start again from scratch.

Our actions must be threefold: on one hand we have to pursue our efforts to strengthen our national systems of Science and Technology in order to be able to consciously generate, import, adapt and disseminate new technologies. We need to learn how to make more effective the partnerships among the actors and institutions of the system, to avoid the squandering of resources and to facilitate the conversion of scientific knowledge in practical actions or new products. We have to identify institutional arrangements and incentives more conducive to innovation. This strategy depends on a strong scientific basis directly linked to a strong educational system, both at national and regional scales. To recognize that education at all levels should be given priority is to recognize that if one has a broad and sound educational basis that will be inductive of high academic achievements at the apex. But this also means that if we need a strong University contributing trough scientific research to enhance education in all levels, that is to say guaranteeing the feed-back for the whole system.

For this, what matters is the implicit and tacit knowledge of educated populations, that is to say that the main aspect of science policy in the next century should be policies for education, dissemination, networking and communication, rather than policies for the development of specific products or for the particular interests of a self self-contained scientific communities. A good educational system is the only way to make sure that a nation has the capacity to hold to these goals permanently, that is to say to maintain at the its capability to use scientific knowledge and technological innovation.

The second item that must be present in our agenda comprises scientific cooperation, besides the cooperation South-South, which is fundamental to strengthening our capacity in those areas of basic science. We must rethink our relationship with the North: we do have in some areas the possibility to generate mechanisms of cooperation based on new grounds. The networks of COSTED/IBN represent an important instrument to implement International Cooperation. They are also a most valuable proactive action to create local conditions for scientific research and consequently effectively avoid brain drain from developing countries. The cooperation to strengthen the national capability to train PhD’s should be given priority.

Finally, we must face the fact that the solution of our social problems will depend on our capacity to establish a strong commitment of our national scientific communities with questions that affect us in the fields of health, education, food production, sanitation, energy conservation, among others. In this case, governments may play a decisive role when different ministries and local governments increase their support to endogenous solutions and recognize that sustainable development requires intense research and specific technologies that may be developed or adapted national or regionally. These are a few ideas that ideas that in our view must be privileged in our future discussions.


Essential national health research:
a powerful instrument in the response to human basic health need

Essmat Ezzat
Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Human Resource Development, Egypt


Basic Human Health Needs constitute a major worldwide shameful problem at the door step of the twenty first century. In contrast to the dazzling scientific advancement in fundamental and biomedical science there exists at the other end of the spectrum a formidable picture of unmet Basic Needs leading to serious health problems and problems that are all comfortable and solvable. Currently people in less and least developing countries are suffering from poor quality of life because of:
1. Food shortage and malnutrition. 2. Unsafe drinking water. 3. Improper or absent sanitation system. 4. Poor or absent Health Care. 5. Overcrowding or shelter deprivation. 6. Primitive ineffective education. 7. Weak or absent social security. Those problems are localized in least and less developing countries in contrast to being nearly unknown in developed ones.
The gap between those who enjoy such services and those who are not is astronomically widening. Lack of scientific social and technologic development is recognized as the root causes of that disparity in the quality of life and living conditions.
In an effort to narrow that gap the Commission for Health Research for Development, an international independent body composed of thirteen researchers and Scientists advanced in 1990 the conceptual strategy called.

Essential National Health Research: Focusing on two major objectives:

a) Identification of country specific Health problems and design an evaluation action program for dealing with them. The stressed that each country should have the capacity and take the responsibility to scientifically define priorities. Areas of relevance and how to address them.

b) Joining the International Effort to find new knowledge, methods and technologies for addressing Global Health Problems that were of high priority for the country in question.

Rapid enlargement of Research Capacity was considered a most urgent need. In spite of the wide spread of the gossip and dissemination of the advocacy yet the basic Human needs are still unmet in most developing countries especially in AFRICA.

Stake holders are available in those countries: Scientists, researchers, policy makers, technologists, health providers Sanitary Engineers and the educators: Finances are meager and the main constituent "The community" is marginalised neglected and actual has no voice. Together with wars natural disasters and famines the latter constitutes the real unsurmountable obstacles for addressing Basic Health Needs. Support of other constituents is only token and does not usually exceed declarations and recommendations. There exists a pressing need to empower the inflicted societies and to involve them in problems identification, definition analysis and solution implementation in the most active way i.e.promote self are.

Is the beginning of the third millennium an appropriate time to

a) assist those marginalized people to surface up nationally and internationally?

b) involve them actively in determining, their needs and planning intervention through the ENHER process that is gaining success worldwide. The international science community owes them a lot of assistance and help if we really mean to value Equity and relevance. Third World Scientists are accountable to their own societies and it is one of the main responsibilities of Third World Academy of Science (in my view) to carry on the responsibility in advocacy promotion and actually planning of programs that respond to the people basic needs. Could they carry the responsibility efficiently in the era of globalization privatization economic reform and possibly social injustice? On the other hand there exist multiple committed worldwide movements working hared to attain social Equity within and in between countries. TWAS the Council for Essential Health Research are typical examples of organizations leading those innovative just and humane movement creating hope and optimism in the future.


Development of biotechnology applied to food and
health to face basic human needs in developing countries

M. de Jesús Limonta-Vidal
Director-General, Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Developing Countries are facing the following three main threats: Food supply, health improvement, and environmental protection.

World population continues to grow at about 1.5% a year and it is projected to reach 8 billion by 2020, and 11 billion by 2050. Almost all of this growth will occur in the already over populated, underdeveloped and poorer regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America which will shelter nearly 90% of the human population. Demands for food in the most populous parts of the world will double by the year 2025.

Science and Technology lagged behind in developing countries. To overcome this situation a real change might be done. The problems to solve are the following: lack of meaningful commitment towards science either basic or applied; no commitment to self-reliance on technology; inadequate institutions; inappropriate ways in handling the enterprise of science; the uncaring attitude of the suppliers of technology and of the North toward technology transfer to the South and lack of stability in the policy toward science.

Application of Biotechnology to face basic needs regarding food in developing countries is real at this time. There are different approaches like development of plant biotechnology, biotechnology applied to livestock production and biotechnology applied to food processing.

Plant biotechnology can offer an important solution mainly with modern methods like plant transgenesis because conventional methods will not be able to satisfy the production demand. The market value for transgenic crops is expected to grow from 450 million in 19995 to over seven billion by 2005. The main genes integrated into crop species to produce transgenic plants provide resistance to many pests, pathogens, herbicides as well as resistance to stress such as temperature, drought and salinity. Among these genes there can be mentioned the following. Genes for improving crop productivity, genes for production of health or agriculture as well as genes for manipulating starch/protein/oil.

In livestock production, many circumstances are not completely applicable to Third World biotechnological use. However, it is important for animal health application like: diagnostic means, new vaccines (recombinant cattle tick vaccine, recombinant vaccine against collbacilosis and others), application of somatotrophic hormone to increase milk production, improvement in the animal feeding and animal reproduction like embryo transplantation. The production of transgenic animals and animal cloning are making a new dimension in animal biotechnology for different purposes. There are recent developments with transgenic fish with growing speed even two folds the normal strain creating a real revolution in this field.

In food processing there different important methods for the detection of pathogens contamination in food applying biotechnological procedures: the production of enzymes for different purposes like alpha amylase to transform starch and simultaneously with dextranase for sugar cane industry, chimosin for cheese production, sucrose invortase (to obtain fructose from sucrose), micro-organism for food conservation and microalga crops.

Biotechnology applied to health in developing countries is a special chapter. A great effort should be done in preventive medicine. Therefore, biotechnology for the development of new diagnosis means and vaccines are very important in addition to other treatment programs. AIDS must be mentioned since more than 95% of infected persons being to the Third World. A long list of infectious diseases take place in developing countries in addition to AIDS, for instance Malaria, which produces more than 2000 000 - death world-wide per year mainly in developing countries and dengue haemortagic fever. There are not yet available vaccines for these three diseases. Hepatitis B, measles, cholera, tuberculosis, respiratory diseases, and diarrhoea diseases should be mentioned as well.

Modern Biotechnology has led to a new model concerning the development of vaccines as well as new medicines such as DNA vaccine, vaccines to be eaten within fruits, therapeutic agents and products against AIDS and other improvements. There are very few examples of local development in the Third World as Medical Biotechnology with great impact in the health of its population. Cuba is one of the most outstanding examples of this matter. Concerning Medical Biotechnology the Third World, as a whole, will demand a strong collaboration in order to reduce the present gap between developed countries and developing countries.

Environmental problems in developing countries are growing, among these, dessert and salinity can be mentioned, which are very important to consider. On the other hand, there are also other problems such as demographic expansion without a proper control, ecological damages due to uncontrolled migrations, destruction of natural ecosystems, soils contamination because of chemical compounds of high risk, contamination of the water sources and contamination of oil.

Actions in different developing countries have come out with the use of biotechnology to develop aspects of food, health, and environment. These actions are very different so more information and collaboration from South to South will be required to obtain more benefits. It is very important a wider action from the side of North countries, in order to reduce the gap produced between North and South countries.

A stronger political will must be developed among developing countries to support scientific advancement in order to achieve knowledge and with this knowledge achieve progress.


The responsibility of science in the alleviation of poverty in the world

Thomas R. Odhiambo
former President, African Academy of Sciences, Kenya


The strength of science has traditionally lied in establishing a progressively greater knowledge and understanding of the material world, and to use this knowledge in controlling it for the presumed benefit of humankind. In the second half of the twentieth century, the opinion of those who view science as not an unalloyed benefit to humankind has become over more strident, and never scientific advances, such as in biotechnology and nanotechnology have made the ethical position of science more vulnerable. Scientists can no longer remain insensitive to these perceptions on the seemingly high moral ground of objectivity and rationality, and their procedural reluctance to go beyond the perimeter of the physical universe.

Science must now, once again, engage the totality of human aspirations as the context in which scientific knowledge and understanding is advanced, and its application to human welfare engaged. A Platform of ethical responsibility is an essential element of the transformation of science in the twenty-first century from being solely an instrument of power, to one which also engages fundamentally in human welfare issues. Poverty alleviation is a prime are of such concern, and should prove a challenging new frontier of scientific problem-solving.


Science in response to basic human needs
with special reference to water

Riyad Al-Dabbagh
President, Al-Mustansiriya University, Iraq

In a world full of all kinds of disputes to possess sources of wealth, energy and influence; man, who lives in a century that portends the perpetuation of such disputes, is perplexed lest his rights and hopes for a better life should be jeopardised.

In this century also, science and scientists are at the crossroads; believing in science as a means to achieve happiness and advancement on one hand, and a means to dominance and destruction on the other hand.

Here the responsibilities of scientists towards science and the human society become clearly pronounced. This is due to the fact that the scientific and material potentialities of man have dominated over his moral standards. Rights have consequently become a slogan that is not; if ever, put into practice and the objectives of science have also been led astray by the greediness of man who aspires to benefit from science and technology to achieve his own ends.

Science which is represented by scientists and their conscience is required to achieve basic human needs, make further research in agriculture, industry and mining so as to develop economy, and improve education and disseminate cultural concepts to overcome ignorance, diseases and poverty.findings lest they should be used in destruction and domination. This should be accomplished by taking heed of the society's rights to investing science in favour of the individual. Scientific values should also be accompanied by human values in order to maintain science in the service of man's, happiness, enlightenment and basic needs.

The ZERI approach towards responding to basic human needs,
with special reference to poverty alleviation, energy and shelter

Keto Elitabu Mshigeni
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research, University of Namibia

ZERI is an acronym for Zero Emissions Research Initiative. It is a new paradigm which attempts to understand nature, and how nature works; which seeks to mimic nature, with a view to maximising production, without leaving behind wastes that pollute the environment; and which is directed towards doing more with what the Earth produces, and also with the world’s natural resources: leading to total utilisation of raw materials and byproducts, so that all unwanted residues are eliminated through a clustering of activities. Thus what you do not want (conceived as waste) is passed on to someone else, who can use it, and add more value to it. ZERI considers the complexities of our time, and re-assesses the approaches being adopted to address the current and the 21st challenges to humanity. It is conceived as an effective agent for translating science towards responding to the growing global human needs for water, food, health care, shelter, energy, new jobs, sustainable productivity, environmental management, and poverty reduction. ZERI lessens undue pressure on the already dwindling non-renewable resources. It is an efficient re-cycling system, which has the power of re-creation: making entirely new valuable and marketable products from what was previously conceived as waste. It catalyses the upsizing of the economy; it stimulates innovation; and it challenges the world’s scientific community towards transforming the concept ‘garbage-in garbage-out’ into ‘garbage-in goods-out’.

ZERI, indeed, has become a global initiative, which is increasingly gaining momentum, by virtue of the simplicity of its message; an initiative which is rapidly attracting the attention of pragmatic entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians, economists and environmentalists, world wide; an initiative whose message is relevant to both the developing South and the industrialised North. ZERI shows great promise towards becoming a major catalyst for rapid socio-economic development in Africa. It has a very powerful appeal.

In this contribution an attempt will be made to present, in a nutshell, a story on the birth, the growth, and the early fruits of the ZERI concept; and to outline what ZERI stands for in the eyes of industrialists, corporate executives, corporate strategists and scientists, and also of the world’s impoverished masses. The paper will also present selected case studies, whereby the application of the results of scientific research on seaweed has significantly reduced poverty in many rural village communities in Africa; where the application of ZERI principles is already generating new food products, such as edible and marketable mushrooms; new renewable energy sources (e.g., biogas and electricity), and new feed products for poultry, pigs, etc., from materials such as water hyacinth, brewery wastes, etc., which were previously conceived as noxious wastes; new housing construction technologies, which permit the building of more affordable shelter for people in the low-income bracket, using fast-growing bioresources such as bamboo (and houses which can be made self-sufficient in energy needs), and enhanced partnerships between and among scientists and technologists: globally, regionally, and nationally. The case studies will include a bizarre account, whereby the application of ZERI principles has permitted even houseflies to be directed towards doing productive work for humankind: generating four to seven tonnes of fly maggots per month, a produce which is extremely rich in protein (70% to 80% protein), and with many potential uses! The presentation will be concluded with a flash on The Way Forward with ZERI in Africa, and the developing South in general, within the broad framework of the theme: SCIENCE IN RESPONSE TO BASIC HUMAN NEEDS.


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