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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 01:09 GMT
UK aid policy 'neglects science'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Volcano erupts in Montserrat   AP
Montserrat erupts: The society wants a research programme
Britain's work to end the worst poverty in the world is hamstrung by a neglect of science, the Royal Society says.

The society, which is the UK's academy of sciences, says the Department for International Development does not have enough scientific expertise of its own.

The society says DfID also has poor links with research leaders and other ministries on relevant science issues.

It says DfID should appoint a chief scientist, backed by a team able to make more use of available research.

The society's appraisal of the department's scientific capability is contained in a response to a Parliamentary inquiry into the use of science in the UK's international development policy.

Current arrangements within the department are woefully inadequate
Professor Julia Higgins
The society says: "DfID's ability to feed existing scientific knowledge into its development policies, and to identify and fund cutting-edge scientific research to help poor countries overcome development obstacles, is severely restricted."

Focus on individuals

It says DfID's approach to the use and funding of science in developing countries is "short-term and unco-ordinated", and urges the department to acknowledge how "long-term and underpinning" research can help it to reach its goals.

The society says: "DfID policy, for example, on natural resources science is concentrated mainly on small-scale highly specific projects, which have direct benefits for individual citizens.

"Although very valuable research, this restricted focus means that over-arching research is sidelined.

"For example, satellite-based monitoring of rainfall is the only feasible way of obtaining an overview of the large-scale rainfall pattern in Africa.

"Governments and development agencies could use such information to feed into flood and famine warning systems and crop yield monitoring.

"However, little emphasis is placed on this research as it is not of direct use to individual farmers."

Closer contact urged

Professor Julia Higgins, the society's foreign secretary, said: "Current arrangements within the department are woefully inadequate.

"Without a chief scientist, supported by a dedicated scientific team, it is likely that DfID is missing opportunities to use the latest developments in science... or even gain the full benefits of the research it commissions."

Mozambicans wade through floods   AP
Rainfall monitoring would help flood warning systems
The society also criticises DfID for funding immediate monitoring of a volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat but having no clear research programme to develop a deeper understanding of the volcano's behaviour.

It says work done by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council is highly relevant to developing countries, "but the department has limited contact with this body."

More on way

The society says UK support for scientific training in developing countries is very limited, and urges the government to increase it.

A DfID spokesman told BBC News Online the department rejected the Royal Society's assertion that its approach to the use of science was either short-term or unco-ordinated.

He said: "Our mandate... is poverty reduction. We only fund science contributing to that end.

"We cover a range of scientific disciplines, hence we have five chief advisers (covering environment, human development, economics, social development and governance) rather than one chief scientist.

"We now have almost 500 scientific and professional advisers working across the department in the UK and overseas, and we are increasing resources for the commissioning, monitoring and dissemination of relevant scientific research."

Ash rains down on Montserrat
13 Jul 03  |  Americas
Plans for volcano warning system
15 Jul 02  |  Scotland

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