By Alex Kirby
BBC News website environment correspondent
The potential of science and technology for tackling poverty is much more than governments realise, UN advisers say.
Science "can help Africa too"
A report for the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, on how to radically reduce poverty and hunger within 10 years says policymakers lack scientific inputs.
It says scientific advisers should join economists at the heart of governments' policy debates on development issues.
Otherwise, it says, there is no chance of reaching the Millennium Development Goals of halving world poverty by 2015.
Mapping the way
The report, Innovation: Applying Knowledge In Development, was prepared by 27 international experts, the UN Millennium Project's task force on science, technology and innovation.
The full Millennium Project will report later this month on how to reach all the goals, which include reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women.
The report's lead author is Professor Calestous Juma, of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, US.
He said: "Scientific and technical capabilities determine the ability to provide clean water, good health care, adequate infrastructure and safe food.
"However, the terrible devastation caused by the tsunamis last week raises the question of whether enough was invested in adopting existing technologies which could have reduced the scale of the disaster.
"The sum required to establish an early warning system now looks pitifully small compared to the cost in terms of the tens of thousands of lives lost and the billions of dollars in damage caused.
"Developed countries should reflect on the price of investing in building the capacity of developing countries to prevent or reduce the impacts of natural disasters, compared to the huge costs of international aid after the disasters have occurred.
"While governments and international bodies usually have no shortage of economic advice, few have policy advisers on science, technology and innovation.
"It is inconceivable that the eight Millennium Development Goals can be achieved by 2015 without a focused science, technology and innovation policy.
"The UN should lead by example by appointing a scientific adviser to the secretary-general."
Ending poverty relies on science and technology
The report identifies information and communications technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and new materials as vital for long-term economic transformation in developing countries.
It says science, technology and innovation have helped largely to eliminate poverty and hunger and have driven remarkable economic growth in much of south-east Asia and the Asian Pacific.
Yet their potential for helping solve poverty and hunger elsewhere, most notably in Africa, is under-appreciated, the report says.
Professor Juma said: "Universities also have a vital role to play in economic development. But we need to stop the brain drain of the most talented individuals from developing countries."
Among examples the report gives of successful innovation is a small, low-cost community water treatment system developed by Uruguay for its soldiers on peacekeeping duties in Africa in the mid-1990s.
More than 120 units have been installed in Uruguay itself, where they have reduced waterborne diseases, especially cholera.
The report also singles out the African Virtual University, which from this year will use the internet to train new teachers through distance learning.
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the AVU has established 31 learning centres in 17 African countries. More than 23,000 people have been trained in journalism, business studies, computer science, languages, and accounting since it opened in 1997.