Science for Development

Many of the core breakthroughs in long-term economic development have been new technologies: the Green Revolution for food production, vaccines and immunizations, antimalarial bed nets, oral rehydra-tion therapies, agroforestry to replenish soil nutrients, antiretroviral medicines. In almost all of these cases, the technologies were first developed for the rich-country markets, or were sponsored for the poor nations in a special donor-led process. It is very rare, alas, that technologies are developed by the private sector to meet specific challenges in the poor countries (for example, for tropical foods or diseases). The poorest of the poor simply do not provide enough of a market incentive for private-sector-led research and development.

Recognizing that the poor are therefore likely to be ignored by the international scientific community—unless special efforts are made—it is critical to identify the priority needs for scientific research in relation to the poor, and then to mobilize the requisite donor assistance to spur the research and development. Here are a few areas of special importance, drawing on work by various scientific bodies in recent years that have explored this issue:

• Diseases of the poor: new preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic measures for diseases specific to low-income countries, especially tropical diseases

• Tropical agriculture: new seed varieties, water management techniques, and soil management techniques

• Energy systems in remote rural areas: special technologies for off-grid power, including renewable energy sources (for example, photovoltaic cells), power generators, improved batteries, and low-watt illumination

• Climate forecasting and adjustment: improved measurement of seasonal, interannual, and long-term climate changes, with a view toward prediction as well as adjustment to climate changes

• Water management: improved technologies for water harvesting, desalination, small-scale irrigation, and improved management of aquifers being depleted by overuse. Water will rise in importance as population densities and climate change interact to produce more regions in acute water stress.

• Sustainable management of ecosystems: fragile ecosystems around the world (coral reefs, mangrove swamps, fisheries, rainforests, to name a few) are succumbing to anthropogenic forces, often with dire consequences. In many cases, poor communities do not have the technical capacity to monitor changes or to respond in an effective an sustainable manner.

The UN Millennium Project recommends global donor support on the order of $7 billion per year to address priority R&D needs for health, agriculture, energy, climate, water, and biodiversity conservation in the poorest countries. Targeted scientific efforts have had huge benefits in the past. The Rockefeller Foundation financed the research leading to the yellow fever vaccine in 1928 and much of the plant breeding research leading to the Green Revolution. In recent years the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has financed extensive research into AIDS, TB, malaria, and other diseases that afflict the poor. GlaxoSmithKline, working together with the Gates Foundation, has recently announced promising advances toward a malaria vaccine, though a proven vaccine for use in Africa is still years off. In order to stimulate the needed research and clinical testing of new vaccine candidates, I have recommended together with Harvard economist Michael Kremer that donor agencies and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria commit ahead of time to purchasing a successful vaccine on a large scale for dis tribution in Africa, thereby creating a financial incentive for vaccine research and development.

Environmental Stewardship

Even though the local effects of global climate change are extremely hard to forecast, we can be sure that many of the world's poorest places are at risk of being overwhelmed by climate shocks coming from outside their borders. Rising ocean levels associated with long-term warming will likely inundate impoverished regions such as Bangladesh and small island economies. Shifting patterns of rainfall, such as the declines in precipitation evident in Africa's Sahel and those associated with long-term warming in the Indian Ocean, are likely to be experienced elsewhere. An increasing frequency and intensity of El Nino climate cycles could become an important disturbance for hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Changes in ocean chemistry associated with rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could poison the coral reefs, with attendant disastrous effects on coastal ecosystems and coastal economies.

The poorest of the poor are mostly innocent victims in this drama. The major cause of long-term climate change, fossil fuel combustion, is disproportionately the result of rich-country actions. Any responsible global approach to poverty reduction should include much greater attention to three things. First, the rich countries themselves, and particularly the United States, will have to live up to their longstanding commitment under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." Second, the rich countries will have to give added financial assistance to the poor countries to enable them to respond effectively to, or at least to cope with, the changes ahead. Third, as I noted earlier, the rich countries will have to invest more in climate science to gain a clearer understanding of how the changes already under way are likely to affect the world's poorest people, as well as the rest of us.


The poor countries refer euphemistically to the UN agencies, bilateral donors, and Bretton Woods institutions as their "development partners," In the best of circumstances, these agencies and counterpart governments really act as partners. Often, however, they can be as much nuisance as help. Aid flows are often small and unpredictable, while hundreds of small-scale aid projects eat up the time and attention of overstretched and impoverished governments. Harmonization of aid in support of a single MDG-based poverty reduction strategy is vital.

In order to harmonize aid, however, the partners themselves need to do a better job in dealing with each other. The key, I believe, is to use the United Nations system to its best advantage. The UN secretary-general is the best placed official in the world to help coordinate the various stakeholders who must contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The UN agencies offer vitally important expertise in every aspect of development. A partial listing of these agencies and their core areas of competence is shown in table 1. With the lead of the secretary-general, and operating through the UN Development Program (UNDP), each low-income country should have the benefit of a united and effective United Nations country team, which coordinates in one place the work of the UN specialized agencies, the IMF and the World Bank. In each country, the UN country team should be led by a single United Nations resident coordinator, who reports to the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, who in turn reports to the UN secretary-general. This UN country team is vital to providing every poor country with the best of international evidence and science addressed to the challenges of escaping the poverty trap and achieving sustainable development.

Why do I belabor such an obvious housekeeping point? Because the current system is surprisingly dysfunctional, to the point where the IMF and the World Bank sometimes hardly speak with the UN agencies, even though they all depend on one another. For the past twenty- years, the rich countries have assigned the IMF and the World Bank a privileged position in relation to the other UN agencies, so much so that the other agencies would sometimes have to call me simply to find out what the IMF was actually doing in a particular country. They lacked the direct access to find out on their own.

Why the IMF and the World Bank were given this privileged position is easily explained. As the old advice puts it, Follow the money. The rich countries hold sway in the IMF and the World Bank much more than in the UN agencies. Unlike the UN General Assembly, and most of the

Table 1: UN Agencies in

Development (partial list)



Core Areas of Concern in Developing Countries

Bretton Woods Institutions

International Monetary Fund

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