in Science and Technology for
Port of Spain, Trinidad, 23-25 September, 1998
First Caribbean Conference on Science and Technology
A Brief Report with Recommendations
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
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
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
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
renewable and/or alternative energy development and
biotechnology for improvement in crops, addressing
disease and in industrial applications
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
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
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
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
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.
Key general recommendations
It is recommended that:
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.
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.
steps be taken both nationally and regionally to enhance
communication and ties between university and productive sector researchers.
greater efforts be made to inform governments and the
general public of the potential of S&T for catering to economic and social needs.
the collection of data, from which priorities for S&T
can be derived, be accorded a high priority.
Working group I: Collaboration between the research community and the end users of
Recommendations to governments, regional organizations and lending institutions
In order to support a critical mass and regional impact,
it is recommended that:
a Regional Research Council be created to fund research
of interest to, and focused on, regional problems.
legislation be enacted and that stakeholders establish
policies to facilitate links between research centres and industry.
priorities be established for investment in research,
focused in those areas which can have maximum impact on society.
research capacity in universities and other institutes be
strengthened in relation to the needs of the productive sector.
Recommendations to universities and research centres
To enhance the benefits of cooperation among universities and research centres with
the productive sector, it is recommended that:
research centres and universities make adjustments to
their structure whenever necessary, to promote links with the productive sector and
maximize their benefits.
universities have a balanced focus in their research
effort between basic and applied research.
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
It is recommended that:
the productive sector take steps to facilitate the
establishment of linkages between the universities and industry.
the productive sector make a special effort to support
research in universities and other research centres.
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
It is recommended that:
governments be made aware that they must adopt modern
information and communication technologies in order to be competitive in the global market
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.
education not only involve computer literacy but also
incorporate the economic and business management environment in which these technologies
are to be employed.
governments adopt a vigorous role in technology
education, in the provision of infrastructure and in the development of information and
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.
Caribbean nations cooperate to develop and implement
appropriate information and communication strategies.
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
It is recommended that:
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.
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.
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.
information on existing risk levels and their economic
and social implications be effectively communicated to decision-makers and to the public
mitigation avoid the implementation of homogeneous and
purely structural solutions.
structural and non-structural measures be conceived and
implemented with the collaboration of physical, engineering and social scientists.
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.
public awareness campaigns and organizational
strengthening be implemented in all Caribbean countries.
mitigation measures be incorporated into development and
environmental planning at all levels.
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
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;
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
a clearing-house mechanism within the Caribbean be
established for the provision and dissemination of all pertinent data/information on
hazards and potentials hazards.
data bases on events which are likely to create hazards
and disasters be developed or strengthened.
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.
more accurate inshore bathymetry and coastal elevation
data for all countries within the wider Caribbean be given top priority.
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
With regard to education, research, training and
awareness-building, it is recommended that:
public education programmes be undertaken on the advances
in S&T as they relate to disaster mitigation.
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.
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
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.
train teachers to deliver the new curricula and to teach
children how to learn.
involve practising scientists directly in the
teaching/learning process within the education system and in community activities to
promote the popularization of S&T.
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.
establish a Caribbean S&T popularization network.
promote more wide scale use of the media and make the
media in the region more aware of S&T to facilitate its popularization.
encourage the establishment of science centres in each
encourage the production/publication of books, multimedia
products, software and other materials for the popularization of S&T.
use new technologies to explain and popularize science
using a holistic approach.
form a broad lobbying group for the popularization of
S&T in Caribbean countries.
Working group 5: Use and
management of natural resources
It is recommended that:
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.
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
social facilitation and policy analysis skills (e.g.
involvement of local communities, working as teams with
establishment of priorities and policy implications for
natural resource management, particularly for small island nations.
the existence and/or effectiveness of indicators of
success be examined.
an active role for women in the development of S&T
agendas be ensured.
a standardized inventory of S&T capacities in the
Caribbean be undertaken to include: scientists by category, institutes, training
programmes and specific initiatives.
the information collected be used to develop
interdisciplinary networks to facilitate information sharing and avoid duplication of
technology be used to lower costs of meetings, advisory
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.
the Caribbean region develop an agenda for S& needs
which seeks to assure intergenerational equity.
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
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
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
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.
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