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Furthering Cooperation
in Science and Technology for
Caribbean Development

Port of Spain, Trinidad, 23-25 September, 1998

First Caribbean Conference on Science and Technology

A Brief Report with Recommendations

Introduction                            Back to top

The countries of the Greater Caribbean region have distinct physical environments, economies, scientific infrastructure and socio-political settings. In spite of these differences, they share a common desire to improve their economic position and enrich the lives of their population. Most important is improvement of health, correction of environmental degradation, enhanced agricultural production and the development of trade and industry.

Science and technology (S&T) are a major tool for meeting each of these goals. Development and use of improved information and communication technologies can accelerate the overall process and strengthen the educational framework needed to sustain it.

Background to the Conference                       Back to top

The concept of the Caribbean Conference on Science and Technology stemmed principally from the vision of the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (CAS), which wished to strengthen S&T cooperation among Caribbean nations and take the first step toward this goal through an event suitable for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of CAS.

The Conference was organized on the premise that participants would agree to a series of findings and recommendations that would help governments as well as international and non-governmental funding organizations set priorities for cooperative research activities and support. The organizers made a conscious effort to steer away from a focus on policy analyses that were not likely to lead to concrete results. In order to accomplish this, the invitees selected represented a broad mix of political, financial and technical expertise designed to develop practical steps for moving research into application. Senior governmental, financial, private sector and scientific representatives participated.

Key Elements of special invited presentations                           Back to top

In the course of his feature address to the Conference, Mr Trevor Sudama, Minister of Planning and Development, Trinidad and Tobago, pointed out that, while there was a need to remain active in fundamental research, improvement in the human condition was the most important priority. Linked to this priority was a need for CAS to publicize the impact of S&T, particularly that which had been developed by regional scientists and technocrats. Science must be seen by society at large to be making an important input into the productive sector. Societal recognition of this role was extremely important in order to enhance allocation of resources to the S&T infrastructure of the region. Both policy-makers and scientists must be conscious of the fact that S&T needed to be used as a catalyst if one were to transform Caribbean countries into modern, dynamic societies. Science must be seen as an essential investment in regional development.

The Minister saw international and regional cooperation in S&T as leading to enhancement in the quality of Caribbean research and bringing it up to international standards of excellence. He said his government also strongly supported international S&T exchanges and training, particularly through bilateral S&T agreements.

The Minister noted the small size of Trinidad and Tobago's scientific community and the country's very small expenditure on R&D. Progress in research, therefore, must depend on cooperation, preferably beginning within the Caribbean and Latin American region. He felt that a regional funding facility to support potential areas for joint research, combining public, private and international funds, would represent a welcome initiative. Such areas are:

  • the environment, including sustainable utilization of natural resources

  • renewable and/or alternative energy development and utilization

  • biotechnology for improvement in crops, addressing disease and in industrial applications

  • Informatics.

At the local and regional levels, partnerships between R&D institutions, government and the private sector was a necessary prerequisite for goal-oriented, industry-driven R&D. The Trinidad and Tobago Government was committed to playing its part in this partnership and being a catalyst in developing this alliance.

While unable to attend the Conference in person, Dr Rita Colwell, Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, made the following points in remarks transmitted at the opening ceremony:

  • Science should move ahead to meet the challenges of the 21st century by being prepared, by showing anticipation and foresight.

  • Today, the tools and methods of science, engineering and technology are very sophisticated.

  • The data on which our knowledge is based is comprehensive and we have the power and capability to think with anticipation in a way that was never possible before.

  • While in the past our efforts relied on remediation - solving existing problems - we can now predict these problems and act to prevent them. Two areas highlight this issue, biotechnology and information technology.

  • In the area of biotechnology, we are beginning to understand biocomplexity: the interrelationships of complex chemical, biological and social interactions. These help us access the fundamental principles of sustainability and thus help determine our survival as a human species and the ecological survival of the planet. This is the key to moving from remediation to predictive and preventive capabilities.

  • In the area of information technology, today's high-speed networks give us the opportunity to make all nations and regions part of the global information infrastructure This tool will make the integrated research described above possible.

  • The Caribbean region is a model of how information technology will be able to link together centres of excellence and the work related to areas such as environment, health and emerging economic sectors.

The Honourable Basdeo Panday, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, noted the exponential growth of science in general, particularly in the areas of biotechnology and information technology, and the importance of science in securing a place in the global economy for countries of the Caribbean region. He recognized the critical role of an educated and trained citizenry in adapting to the requirements of an information-based global economy and stated this to be the reason for his engineering a 'Revolution in Education'. The Prime Minister identified the elements of this 'Revolution', which aims to ensure that all citizens are provided with the skills to participate in the global economy. A computer in every school is an absolute priority for making this possible. He informed the audience that Trinidad and Tobago will be making a bid to host a Hemispheric Conference on Information Technology in the Year 2000.

Ambassador Christopher Thomas, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, gave a plenary address on furthering cooperation in S&T for Caribbean development. Ambassador Thomas noted that the role of S&T as a tool for the development of various sectors of the economy was already recognized but pointed out that the role of science would become even more important in the future; it would determine how the planet and our societies evolve. He also recognized the opportunity the Conference provided to the region for self-evaluation in scientific matters and in applying S&T to all sectors of the economy.

The Ambassador underscored the importance of pooling the human resources of the region for the application of S&T to common problems and the special role of education and information technology in this process. He noted that socio-economic survival of countries of the region was becoming increasingly dependent on appropriate development and application of S&T. He recommended the design of a regional S&T policy focused on the needs of the region, with special attention being paid to the role of education and training. Finally, Ambassador Thomas urged recognition of the importance of new information and communication technologies in all areas of economic development.

In another plenary address, Dr R.Elena Simeon Negrin, Cuban Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, noted that the accelerated march toward globalization using S&T left in doubt the role of smaller countries. She raised the possibility that this latter group might remain underdeveloped while S&T accelerated the development of other countries. She asked whether globalization incorporated universal access to advanced knowledge and technology.

The Minister noted the need for all countries to pursue S&T and to apply it to national development and the environment, as well as economic and social processes. While scientific knowledge was basically universal, its application to commercial benefits seemed more restricted. For instance, certain knowledge that could be considered basic to the interests of all human beings was considered intellectual property. Examples of this were certain vegetative species that might represent a new source of food, disease-fighting compounds and the genetic composition of human beings.

Countries that had the financial resources could acquire knowledge of this sort that could be considered the common heritage of humanity. Developing countries that needed to restrict external payments to acquiring basic needs were shut out from this market. These countries would be better positioned for economic and social development by having their own S&T capability. The present international order, according to the Minister, offered little or nothing in the way of knowledge to countries like those participating in the Conference. These countries must therefore develop indigenous S&T capability and attempt greater coordination and integration in the S&T area. Strengthened cooperation could address common problems such as saline intrusion, deterioration of coastal systems, availability of water for human consumption and agricultural use, and self-sufficiency in food production.

The Minister stated that Cuba was ready to share its S&T knowledge with other Caribbean nations and that this might serve as a bridge to closer ties in other areas.

Recommendations                                                  Back to top

Key general recommendations                                   Back to top

It is recommended that:

  1. there be a follow-on meeting in 2-4 years' time to measure progress in the areas identified above and to identify new measures for strengthening S&T cooperation within the Caribbean region.

  2. a regional organization consisting of both national and regional existing scientific organizations be set up to, inter alia, identify and coordinate S&T activities in the Caribbean community.

  3. steps be taken both nationally and regionally to enhance communication and ties between university and productive sector researchers.

  4. greater efforts be made to inform governments and the general public of the potential of S&T for catering to economic and social needs.

  5. the collection of data, from which priorities for S&T can be derived, be accorded a high priority.

Specific recommendations                           Back to top

Working group I: Collaboration between the research community and the end users of research
Recommendations to governments, regional organizations and lending institutions

In order to support a critical mass and regional impact, it is recommended that:

  1. a Regional Research Council be created to fund research of interest to, and focused on, regional problems.

  2. legislation be enacted and that stakeholders establish policies to facilitate links between research centres and industry.

  3. priorities be established for investment in research, focused in those areas which can have maximum impact on society.

  4. research capacity in universities and other institutes be strengthened in relation to the needs of the productive sector.

Recommendations to universities and research centres                                 Back to top
To enhance the benefits of cooperation among universities and research centres with the productive sector, it is recommended that:

  1. research centres and universities make adjustments to their structure whenever necessary, to promote links with the productive sector and maximize their benefits.

  2. universities have a balanced focus in their research effort between basic and applied research.

  3. universities initiate a dialogue with the productive sector so as to maximize the impact of their research on society. Peer reviews and opinion sharing could serve to begin the implementation of this recommendation.

Recommendations to the productive sector                                        Back to top
It is recommended that:

  1. the productive sector take steps to facilitate the establishment of linkages between the universities and industry.

  2. the productive sector make a special effort to support research in universities and other research centres.

  3. the productive sector participate in programmes of education and training, as well as in exchange programmes.

Working group II: Communication and information technologies and challenges            Back to top
It is recommended that:

  1. governments be made aware that they must adopt modern information and communication technologies in order to be competitive in the global market place.

  2. in order to successfully adopt and utilize these technologies, governments educate citizens, at all levels, in the use of these technologies and provide universal access to these technologies to the degree possible.

  3. education not only involve computer literacy but also incorporate the economic and business management environment in which these technologies are to be employed.

  4. governments adopt a vigorous role in technology education, in the provision of infrastructure and in the development of information and communication policies.

  5. a data base for the development of information and communication technology strategies for the Caribbean region be established, with special emphasis on the standardization of data.

  6. Caribbean nations cooperate to develop and implement appropriate information and communication strategies.

  7. Caribbean nations keep abreast of new communication technologies, such as the new internet systems, virtual laboratories and activities associated with virtual reality, in order to remain economically competitive.

Working group III: Disaster mitigation                                 Back to top
It is recommended that:

  1. close collaboration be encouraged between physical scientists, engineers, medical and social scientists in the preparation of risk analysis maps and scenarios at local, regional and national levels.

  2. the concept of vulnerability be revisited to encompass not only the structural and locational but also social, economic, cultural, organizational, institutional, educational and ideological vulnerabilities.

  3. vulnerability and risk be expressed as some measurable index and be event-, location- and population-specific. It is necessary to take into account that most Caribbean countries exist under multi-hazard conditions, which in itself complicates vulnerability analysis.

  4. information on existing risk levels and their economic and social implications be effectively communicated to decision-makers and to the public in general.

  5. mitigation avoid the implementation of homogeneous and purely structural solutions.

  6. structural and non-structural measures be conceived and implemented with the collaboration of physical, engineering and social scientists.

  7. adherence to appropriate land-use plans and building codes based on an update of CUBIC standards be enforced and encouraged by non-regulatory mechanisms, such as financial and fiscal incentives.

  8. public awareness campaigns and organizational strengthening be implemented in all Caribbean countries.

  9. mitigation measures be incorporated into development and environmental planning at all levels.

  10. specific local parameters and characteristics be recognized, in order to earn social, economic and cultural acceptability and promote community level participation.

With regard to decentralization/participation, it is recommended that:                Back to top

  1. necessary resources be made available at the individual and community level for risk assessment, identification and disaster reduction. Use of municipal and community resources must be encouraged;

  2. people be encouraged and empowered to take care of themselves and their future. The private sector should be involved in this process.

With regard to regional/international cooperation, it is recommended that:                  Back to top

  1. a clearing-house mechanism within the Caribbean be established for the provision and dissemination of all pertinent data/information on hazards and potentials hazards.

  2. data bases on events which are likely to create hazards and disasters be developed or strengthened.

  3. existing storm hazard assessment models be used to stimulate the total impact of storm surge, wind and waves on population, economic activity and infrastructure in vulnerable coastal areas.

  4. more accurate inshore bathymetry and coastal elevation data for all countries within the wider Caribbean be given top priority.

  5. countries of the Caribbean be made aware of the urgent need to keep abreast of the scientific assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global Warning and Sea Level Rise, and the use of IPCC common methodology to assess coastal vulnerability and to use this information for social and economic planning.

With regard to education, research, training and awareness-building, it is recommended that: Back to top

  1. public education programmes be undertaken on the advances in S&T as they relate to disaster mitigation.

  2. disaster mitigation concepts be included in the curricula of educational institutions from kindergarten to the tertiary level to ensure that the benefits of the S&T are transferred to the population at large.

  3. tertiary institutions in the Region should create a capacity for research, training and technical advice on disaster management. Examples of initiatives in this area can be seen in the recent cooperation between Florida International University and the Broward County Emergency Management Centre.

Working group 4: Increasing public understanding of science and technology            Back to top
It is recommended that action be taken to: change the school curricula from primary level to ensure that children are taught how to:

  • learn and continue to learn throughout their lives

  • acquire problem-solving and research skills

  • retain their natural creativity and curiosity.

  1. train teachers to deliver the new curricula and to teach children how to learn.

  2. involve practising scientists directly in the teaching/learning process within the education system and in community activities to promote the popularization of S&T.

  3. promote the popularization of S&T as an integral part of poverty reduction strategies in key areas, e.g. nutrition, health, shelter, environment, disaster preparedness, life issues.

  4. establish a Caribbean S&T popularization network.

  5. promote more wide scale use of the media and make the media in the region more aware of S&T to facilitate its popularization.

  6. encourage the establishment of science centres in each Caribbean country.

  7. encourage the production/publication of books, multimedia products, software and other materials for the popularization of S&T.

  8. use new technologies to explain and popularize science using a holistic approach.

  9. form a broad lobbying group for the popularization of S&T in Caribbean countries.

Working group 5: Use and management of natural resources                        Back to top
It is recommended that:

  1. the applicability of options for natural resource management, such as preservation, conservation or management, be examined on a case-by-case basis and not as a general policy.

  2. resource managers use participatory management techniques to manage the region's natural resource base. This should include:

  • ecological, social and economic impacts, an understanding of ecological dynamics of communities and the natural history of exploited species

  • acquiring social listening skills (recommended to all stakeholders)

  • social facilitation and policy analysis skills (e.g. conflict mediation/resolution)

  • involvement of local communities, working as teams with decentralized structures

  • economic literacy

  • computer/information literacy

  • establishment of priorities and policy implications for natural resource management, particularly for small island nations.

  1. the existence and/or effectiveness of indicators of success be examined.

  2. an active role for women in the development of S&T agendas be ensured.

  3. a standardized inventory of S&T capacities in the Caribbean be undertaken to include: scientists by category, institutes, training programmes and specific initiatives.

  4. the information collected be used to develop interdisciplinary networks to facilitate information sharing and avoid duplication of effort.

  5. technology be used to lower costs of meetings, advisory boards etc.

  6. strategies be developed for capacity-building in natural resource management for the Caribbean region by utilizing expertise of scientists in the global Caribbean diaspora by:

  • providing tax incentives for returning retirees.

  • greater recognition for graduates of Caribbean Technological Institutes (as members of the Caribbean Academy of Sciences)

  • more regional training and strengthen environmental education at all levels, incorporating interdisciplinary courses and technology courses in the development of curricula.

  1. the Caribbean region develop an agenda for S& needs which seeks to assure intergenerational equity.

  2. regional priorities for research in biological information, resource evaluation, assessing effects of environment, biological and anthropic factors on resources be identified.

Recommendations pertaining to the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (CAS)                     Back to top
It is recommended that:

CAS facilitate the preparation of case studies of community participation in natural resource management, analyse successes and/or failures and share this information with the Caribbean science and technology community.

a natural resources subcommittee of the CAS be established. One of its priorities will be to identify funds to implement the recommendations above.

the CAS web-site be expanded to include S&T popularization issues and important S&T publications.

CAS members make an effort to develop presentations to schools.

CAS members report to Prime Ministers of the region emphasizing the importance of implementing measures to popularize S&T.

state scientists become members of the CAS.

CAS establish a forum to identify regional priorities for the forest environment, tourism, fisheries, energy and sustainable development of the Caribbean Sea.

CAS participate more actively in regional fora to strengthen the interface between academia and the public, specifically in respect of meetings on marine and terrestrial resources organized by the ACS, UNEP Caribbean Environment and IICA Programme.

Contacts    Back to top
For further information, contact: ramfly@trinidad.net

 

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