Science and Technology capabilities for social and economic progress

Science and Technology (S&T) capabilities are fundamental for social and economic progress in developing countries; for example, in the health sector, scientific research led to the development and introduction of oral rehydration therapy, which became the cornerstone of international efforts to control diarrheal diseases. Research also established that two cents worth of vitamin A given to children every six months could reduce child mortality in many countries by over one-third. In agriculture, rice-wheat rotation techniques have significantly enhanced food production in South Asia. In Central America, scientifically based natural resource management has been essential in developing the tourist industry, a major source of foreign currency.

International programs based on S&T are critical components of U.S. foreign policy, and particularly foreign assistance activities. Foreign assistance, probably more than any other international endeavor, provides opportunities for representatives of the U.S. government and its partners to join with political and economic leaders, intellectuals, and activists of dozens of countries in continuing, constructive dialogues and in concrete projects designed to enhance the quality of life of hundreds of millions of people. S&T is often the keystones for successful projects. The shared political and economic dividends from these activities can be enormous.

Maintaining and strengthening the contributions of the science, engineering, and medical capabilities of the United States to foreign assistance programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are the themes of this report. USAID has unique and broad legislative authority to support innovative programs in developing countries, unrivaled field experience in adapting technological advances to conditions and capabilities of poor countries, and many successes in integrating S&T into development activities. Therefore, as S&T capabilities become even more important for all countries in addressing traditional development issues and in coping with increased international flows of goods and services and the rapid spread of diseases and contaminants, the agency should play a central role in promoting the S&T-related programs of the U.S. government throughout the developing world.

Unfortunately, many developing countries, particularly the poor countries of Africa, do not have the human resources, physical and economic infrastructures, and access to capital to take full advantage of the S&T expertise and achievements of the United States and other industrialized countries. Nevertheless, countries at all levels of development have a strong desire for more robust S&T capabilities. And some capability to understand the potential and limitations of S&T, to select and effectively utilize suitable foreign technologies, and to develop local innovations is needed in every country.

The observations and recommendations set forth below on the opportunities for USAID to continue to play an important role in bringing to bear the S&T resources of the United States on foreign assistance programs are based on extensive consultations by the committee of the National Research Council (NRC) responsible for this report. The members and staff met with many government officials, foreign assistance practitioners, and S&T specialists in the United States and abroad. The committee sent small teams to six developing countries where USAID has significant programs. These countries and areas of special interest during the field visits were:

  1. India: health;
  2. Philippines: energy;
  3. Bangladesh: agriculture and food security;
  4. Guatemala and El Salvador: biodiversity; and
  5. Mali: poverty in a resource-deficient country.

To help ensure that the conclusions of this report have broad significance, the committee addressed five development challenges that affect hundreds of millions of people each year. These challenges are:

  1. Child survival;
  2. Safe water; 
  3. Agricultural research;
  4. Microeconomic reform; and
  5. Prevention of and response to natural disasters.

International approaches to assisting developing countries are changing; for example, global programs with important S&T dimensions that target health, food production, environmental, and other problems omnipresent in the developing countries are growing in number and size while bilateral assistance is also increasing. A particularly important challenge for USAID is to find its role amidst the expanding network of dozens of foreign assistance providers, and particularly those providers of S&T-related assistance that draws on the limited capabilities of recipient countries to manage technology-oriented programs.

Beyond foreign assistance funds provided by governments, other financial flows to developing countries with S&T implications are growing. They include foreign direct investment by the private sector, remittances to friends and relatives in developing countries sent home by émigrés who are resident in the industrialized countries, contributions to development projects by private foundations, and initiatives designed to benefit local populations supported by multinational companies. At the same time, some donors and international banks are canceling debt repayment obligations of a few poor countries, thereby enhancing the ability of these countries to invest more in education, agriculture, and other activities essential to long-term development.

Private flows often support technical education and vocational training. Private foundations sometimes support long-term research programs in search of breakthroughs and present an important example in this regard. Of special significance are public-private partnerships in mobilizing financial and technological resources for use in poor countries. For example, results achieved by the Global Development Alliance, which links USAID and many private company capabilities, have demonstrated the positive effects of well-designed technology-oriented partnerships.

Meanwhile, within the U.S. government, the responsibilities for programs in developing countries are rapidly diffusing, with USAID now financing only about 50 percent of the government’s international development programs. The independent Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which was established by the U.S. government in 2002, has a multibillion-dollar development program directed to 23 countries although it has been slow in launching its initial projects. The Department of State has relatively new responsibilities for programs directed to combating HIV/AIDS, also with an annual budget in the billions of dollars. Its HIV/AIDS program is moving forward very quickly while a number of other U.S. departments and agencies, international organizations, and private foundations finance directly related activities.

A new office in the Department of State is responsible for planning and coordinating reconstruction activities following hostilities in countries around the globe. In addition to USAID, the Department of Defense continues to be a major contributor to reconstruction efforts in war-torn countries and plays an important role in responding to humanitarian disasters. Many other departments and agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy, have expanded the international dimensions of their mission-

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