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Science for Development in the South

Background Paper

Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)
Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries (COSTED)

prepared by

Prof. D. Balasubramanian
Director of Research
Hyderabad Eye Research Foundation, India

Helpful suggestions received from Prof. A.M. Cetto, Prof. M.H.A. Hassan, Prof. Lu Y.X., Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Prof. J.I. Vargas, Prof. S.O. Wandiga and Dr. V. Zharov are gratefully acknowledged.
Table of Contents

1.     Why Support the Development of Science in the South
2.     Status of Science in the South
3.    Capacity-building for Science-led Development in the South

4.    Commitments by National Governments

5.    Role of International Cooperation
6.    Linking Science and Technology Policies to National and Regional
       Economic Plans
1.  Why Suppport the Development of Science in the South backtop_meet.gif (1986 bytes)
A dramatically successful example of the use of science in solving real life problems of the world is the eradication of small pox, the dreaded disease know to man around the world since Biblical times.  A scourge that maimed and claimed millions of lives every year was rid from the face of the earth through the successful application of original research (making the vaccine), development (making it souhaitable for transport to varied climes and conditions, and its mode of application) and systems approach (coordination of efforts in delivery).  Learning from it, and using a similar strategic application of medical sciences coordinated around the world, it appears that we may rid humandking of two other disabling diseases, namely polio and leprosy, within a generation or so.

Food is another area where the efforts of science have brought direct benefits in terms of health, wealth and prosperity to many nations of the South. The South Asian region, battered time and again in the past with food shortage and famine, has become self-sufficient in food production within a span of fifty years, thanks to the use of high yielding dwarf varieties of crops developed by plant breeders, better fertilizers and pest control practices, water management and post-harvest storage methods. Some of these nations have been able to turn around and export grains to the needy. Following this ‘Green Revolution’ and using similar methods of science and technology has come the ‘White Revolution’ in milk and dairy products, initiated by rural farmer and dairy cooperatives. And the ‘Blue Revolution’ in fish and marine food products appears to be in the offing.

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During the last a few decades we have also come to realize the importance of conservation of resources and of sustainable development. Happily, the South has an abiding tradition of knowledge and practice in managing and sustaining biodiversity, and the wealth and spectrum of its natural resources. Indeed, the nations of the South have been very good at traditional technologies, crafts and techniques, which we are rediscovering now, for example (a) the use of building materials and methods most suited to a given geo-climatic region (Egypt, China and the Far East, Equatorial Africa), (b) water harvesting and preservation (the qanats of Iran, aqueducts of the Mediterranean and West Asia, the village wells of India), (c) use of natural products for comfort, health and medicine (the Oriental, Ayurveda, Arabic and Unani systems), (d) germ plasm preservation (almost all the traditional societies), and so forth.

Quite apart from these, several regions and nations of the South have had an earlier history of practising and propagating high level, and sometimes abstract, science. As early as in The Third Century B. C., the Egyptian Erastothenes wondered about why the mid-day Sun casts no shadows in the town of Syene on the day of the Summer Solstice, while it did at Alexandria, 800 kilometers away. Using the logic of geometry he concluded that this must be so only if the Earth were not flat, but a sphere of radius about 6400 kilometers! He was the first person to measure the size of a planet. He was not a freak example, but the product of a tradition of scholarship in science. The late Professor Abdus Salam, founder of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), has reminded us of the great universities and centres of learning of Greece, China, India, Egypt, Tenth Century Islamia, Spain, Native Americans and the Incas, to name but a few, and their notable contributions to mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, metallurgy and material science, anatomy and physiology, and botany and zoology. These have been backstaged for some time in the passage of time, ready for revival.                                               backtop_meet.gif (1986 bytes)

Science, it has been said, is required as a language and as part of the culture of the South. Science is also the currency that is used everywhere in the hierarchy of nations. It is against this backdrop that a case and a plan for supporting the development, indeed the revival and rejuvenation, of science and technology in the South is made. Such an effort will benefit these countries in solving their real life problems, and benefit their efforts at wealth generation. This effort would in essence be of global benefit, since more than 120 countries of the world are "the South", comprising three-fourths of the global population. In order for these countries to be counted as players in the march of progress towards the new millennium, they must have minimum, nay, optimum competence in science. Unless science reaches, and is effectively used by, these people, how can we talk of World Science?

There is a sense of urgency about this matter. In the years to come the role of science in development will be even more substantial. What looked impossible or prohibitively expensive yesterday has become commonplace and cost-effective today. This has been proven time and again during the last fifty years with the advances in science that have directly flown into areas such as the production and management of food, energy and power, labour- saving devices, safe equipment, transport and traffic of people within and across lands, and communication amongst and between nations. As science grows and advances, it throws up novel ideas and concepts, and newer ways of tackling vexing problems.

Science is the major, if not the only, dimension of human pursuits that offers new opportunities for large scale development, available to all across regions, countries and around the globe. No opportunities offered by science should be overlooked.


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