Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wanted: better bridges between science and aid efforts

Imogen Mathers in In the aftermath of the devastating bomb attack on the UN's Baghdad headquarters on 19 August 2003, the UN General Assembly pushed through a resolution to hold an annual commemoration of those who were killed, and to celebrate those engaged in international humanitarian work across the world — World Humanitarian Day.

Science, technology and innovation are often integral to humanitarian work. Innovative design can help drive development, providing solutions to poverty or disaster-related challenges, and adapting technologies to local demands and contexts.

The technology supplied by humanitarian organisations, ranging from solar-powered stoves to 'bamboo bike' ambulances, is always inspired by a commitment to harnessing the potential of science for the benefit of the poor, and tailoring innovation to needs at the grassroots level.

Yet accessing the required scientific and technological knowledge is not always straightforward. In developing countries, in particular, platforms for dialogue between the scientists and engineers who devise technologies, and the development agencies providing them to communities, are often scarce or even non-existent.

In Togo, for example, where a stuttering energy infrastructure provides electricity to just 20 per cent of the population [1], the government "gives absolutely no support to renewable energy at all," says Lare Toumpane Daméssanou, chief executive of ACDI-SOLAR, an organisation that provides solar energy solutions to 'off-grid' communities in Togo's rural north....

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