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Regional water centre finds mooring in Chile
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28 June 2002 An agreement has been signed between UNESCO and the Chilean government to use $400,000 of Flemish funds to start up the new Water Centre for Arid and Semi-arid Regions of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The centre is to be located in the University of La Serena (Chile). In addition to coordinating research in arid and semi-arid zones of the region, the centre will disseminate research findings and provide countries with assistance.

The centre is part of a UNESCO strategy adopted by the International Hydrology Programme (IHP) in June 2000 to develop regional water centres around the world as part of World Conference on Science follow-up.

The strategy recognizes the increasing importance of water issues on a local, regional and global scale and the need for building regional know-how to solve water problems. Each centre is to serve as a knowledge base for a particular type of water management.

Centres recently established under the auspices of UNESCO are the Regional Centre on Urban Water Management in Teheran (Iran) and the Regional Centre for Water Studies of Arid and Semi-arid Zones (Egypt). A Regional Centre for Ecohydrology in Warsaw (Poland) is in the pipeline.

The agreement for use by the Chilean centre of the UNESCO-Flanders Trust Fund for the Sciences was signed on 18 June at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (France) during the 15th session of the IHP Intergovernmental Council. The Flemish start-up funds will be complemented by Chilean contributions.

Read the full report or contact Vincent Leogardo

Algeria launches national plan for the environment
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21 June 2002 - Algeria has launched a National Plan of Action for the Environment and Sustainable Development. The Plan was presented to all Algeria's partners, including UNESCO, at an an international conference organized for the purpose on 17 June in the Algerian capital.

Part of a ten-year programme, the Plan has been calculated to ensure that ecological factors are taken into account in the process of sustainable development. During his visit to Algiers, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Algerian Minister of Land-Use Planning and Environment, Chérif Rahmani. This provides for the strengthening of cooperation between Algeria and UNESCO in training for the various environment-related professions through virtual universities and in school education for sustainable development and environment .

For further information, contact Jeanne Damlamian, Programme Specialist.

New ‘social contract’ for Johannesburg forum echoes Budapest

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10 June 2002 - Three years after the World Conference on Science adopted a ‘social contract’ between science and society, the country hosting the World Summit on Sustainable Development this year has proposed that a similar contract be concluded in Johannesburg.

In a statement made in Bali during the fourth and final preparatory meeting for the week-long World Summit on Sustainable Development, which begins on 26 August, the South African government has announced that a forum will be held in parallel to the Summit.

During the forum, members of civil society and industry, and policy- and decision-makers will together examine the contributions of science, technology and innovation to sustainable development.

The South African government proposes the following themes for discussion: a new ‘social contract’ between science and society, capacity-building to narrow the knowledge and technology divides, increased interdisciplinarity, greater dialogue between scientists and policy-makers, developments in monitoring and early warning systems and success stories which have marked sustainable development.

The ‘social contract’ between science and society adopted in Budapest took the form of a Declaration and Science Agenda. The twin documents contain recommendations for capacity-building to narrow the knowledge and technology divides, increased interdisciplinarity, greater dialogue between scientists and policy-makers and the development of monitoring and early warning systems. (See for example Section 2.2 of the Science Agenda on Science, environment and sustainable development).

UNESCO is actively involved in preparations for the Johannesburg Summit and took part in the Bali preparatory meeting.

Source: Sci.Dev.Net ; for further information, write to: j.damlamian@unesco.org

Untangling politics of power in biodiversity management
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7 June 2002 - When it comes to managing biodiversity, relations between scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and indigenous peoples can be complex, even conflictual affairs. This emerges from a seminar examining ‘NGOs, indigenous peoples and local knowledge: politics of power in the biodiversity domain’.

The seminar was organized at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 27 and 28 May by the Apsonat team within the Centre national de recherche scientifique (CNRS), in collaboration with the transdisciplinary LINKS programme launched by UNESCO as World Conference on Science follow-up.

The problem of prior informed consent is illustrated by the mésaventure of ethnobotanists Brent and Elois Ann Berlin of the University of Georgia. They found themselves in the middle of a conflict which forced them to cancel their bioprospecting programme in the Highland Chiapas in Mexico. They were there to identify a number of medicinal plants used by the indignenous Mayas communties (8,000 in total) as part of a project to commercialize these plants with a pharmaceutical company. Despite the fact that the ethnobotanists were there to help develop local income, two NGOs, one local and the other international, accused the couple of biopiratery.

In discussion on the Maya mishap, Gonzalo Oviedo acknowledged the ‘fundamentalism’ of some NGOs, whose extremism harmed rather than helped indigenous populations. To make matters worse, he added, scientists lacked the courage to denounce true acts of biopiratery.

If local development projects were able to get off the ground, anthropologist Edvard Hviding noted, this was because mutual incomprehension as to the agenda of the other party was not necessarily an obstacle. To illustrate his point, he cited the example of the Solomon Islands, where forestry groups, conservation NGOs and local peoples had managed to collaborate on a project which meant different things to different people.

Speakers highlighted some effects of globalization on local biodiversity management. Local knowledge has gained formal international recognition, for example, thanks in part to Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Yet these same texts have accorded NGOs a mediation role in an area in which they are simply intermediaries.

The whaling issue has been globalized through the creation of the Whaling Commission. Since 1946, it has been trying to ensure a fragile equilibrium between local and international NGOs wishing to protect the whales, indigenous peoples who wish to hunt for subsistence and countries who advocate or oppose whaling protection.

Peter Bridgewater, Director of UNESCO’s Division of Ecological Sciences, related one outcome of this year’s session. Furious at being denied the right to hunt commercially some 50 small whales this year, Japan has retaliated by preventing the hunting quota from being renewed for the indigenous Inuit Inupiat in Alaska, who hunt whales for subsistence. Japan argues that whale hunting is as much a tradition for its coastal areas as for the indigenous Inuit.

Extracts from original text by Marie Roué. For further information, contact: d.nakashima@unesco.org or roué@mnhn.fr

Weakening of traditional knowledge must be reversed, notes ICSU report

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4 June 2002 - An ICSU report on Science and Traditional Knowledge has expressed concern at the gradual weakening and disappearance of traditional knowledge. ‘This is a trend that must be reversed’, the authors write.

Published in March of this year, the report makes a number of recommendations for strengthening ties between modern science and traditional knowledge.

These include recommendations that ICSU support societies that are keepers and developers of traditional knowledge, that it foster training which equips young scientists and indigenous people to carry out research on traditional knowledge and that it organize an international symposium on science and traditional knowledge.

The report does not propose any major changes to current activities of ICSU and its Member Organizations to strengthen science education and the understanding of modern science in developing countries. It does however remark that, to be fully effective, science curricula need to interact properly with local experiences and systems of traditional knowledge, particularly in the biological and environmental sciences.

The report recommends the creation of an ad hoc working group on science and traditional knowledge. As a first step, the Study Group recommends that ICSU actively promote cooperation between traditional knowledge and science at the United Nations World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (South Africa) in August 2002.

The first part of the report examines the nature of traditional knowledge and the triangular relationship between science, traditional knowledge and pseudo-science.’ A proper understanding of [this] relationship’, the authors write, ‘is important for the further development of both science and traditional knowledge.’

In defining science, they cite Paul Hoyningen-Heune’s paper on The Nature of Science, delivered to the World Conference on Science.

Although the demarcation between science and pseudo-science is difficult, they note, the demarcation between pseudo-science and traditional knowledge is fairly straightforward. Traditional knowledge, they affirm, ‘has typically originated quite independently of science in a particular cultural setting, mostly also quite independently of Western culture‘. Pseudo-science, on the other hand, competes with science, ‘pos[ing] as science by mimicking it’.

The report was commissioned by ICSU’s General Assembly in September 1999 to make a ‘critical study’ of the paragraphs in the Declaration and Science Agenda referring to traditional knowledge systems. The Study Group drafting the report was also invited to examine how, as WCS follow-up, ICSU might support cooperation between holders of traditional holders and scientists for mutual benefit.

The ICSU General Assembly will formally examine the report in September 2002. Download the report

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