IUPAC and Chemistry in Developing Countries
by Prof. Dr. Joshua Jortner
Capacity Building and Research Support in African DCs
Concerned by such circumstances and trends, in 1995, IUPAC strengthened
its collaboration with UNESCO to help develop and foster chemistry,
with an emphasis on capacity building and research, within the world's
developing countries. Initially it was decided to focus on a small
number of African countries with a demonstrated capacity to benefit
from such an initiative. A twelve-person Task Team, composed of senior
chemists from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, was then convened
by Dr. C. F. Garbers, a Member of the UNESCO/IUPAC International Chemistry
Council. Approximately 40 African government departments and related
foreign and international donor and development agencies were approached
for information (not all have replied to date). This effort also sought
to ensure IUPAC's full cognizance of, and coordination with, ongoing
development efforts. An extensive literature search was undertaken
and statistics on chemistry and science in Africa were also collected.
IUPAC, and the entire world chemistry community, are grateful to Dr.
Garbers and the members of the task team for their important contribution.
The first fruits of this ongoing effort was Dr. Garbers' 1997 report
on: "Chemistry in Africa's Least Developed Countries: An Overview
of Capacity Building and Research Support." The report concurred
with the findings of others that the universities of Sub-Saharan Africa
are already in crisis and that, without external funding, even the
current research effort in most of these universities is not sustainable.
Some universities already depend on foreign funds for over 50% of
their total budgets, and chemistry research and teaching facilities
have already "degenerated beyond belief."
Many national chemistry and science training efforts are limited
in scope. Just five of Africa's 51 countries train approximately 76%
of all post-secondary students in the natural sciences. Although a
few chemistry departments are good, most need significant help in
upgrading their facilities, staff and programs. Because of difficulties
with maintenance, compatibility, spare parts, etc., previous efforts
to provide second-hand scientific equipment from abroad have generally
been of only marginal use. North-South scientific collaboration and
donor agency financial support have been crucial to developing Africa's
growing capacity in chemistry, but such aid has also often fostered
economic, cultural and intellectual over-dependence. More regional
"South-South" (not "North-South") and "bottom-up"
(not "top-down") collaboration is essential.
The Overview also notes many new international efforts to revitalize
African universities and increase donor coordination, efforts which
IUPAC supports and with which it must coordinate its own future efforts.
The participation of so many chemists from DCs at this IUPAC-sponsored
International Chemistry Conference, and the unfortunately unrealized
desire of so many others to attend, further demonstrates the potential
and need for expanded regional cooperation. Such meetings can also
help provide a forum for the formal and informal discussions required
for its implementation.
The International Council for Chemistry, established by IUPAC and
UNESCO, is a significant step in this direction; but IUPAC could greatly
expand its work with groups of experts from all stakeholders to elaborate
an integrated regional plan for promoting chemistry-for-development,
and then seek to define and coordinate the required international
and local inputs as part of a single, rational plan. This program's
overall goal should be to combine IUPAC/UNESCO/African analyses and
planning with donor-community and African capacity building and research
support to strengthen chemistry's pervasive role in meeting the needs
of government, communities and industry in African countries.
IUPAC and UNESCO, as the preeminent international organizations in
their respective fields, could, and in the view of the Task Team should,
invite the countries of Africa to conduct needs assessments for chemistry
research and teaching at their universities. UNESCO and IUPAC should
also help provide them with the human and, if necessary, the financial
assistance to do so. IUPAC would review, strengthen and integrate
the national reports into an overall regional strategy, one which,
as far as possible, links weak departments to stronger institutions
in the same or neighboring countries. Special attention should be
given to opportunities and proposals for subregional or regional initiatives.
The Task Team proposed that IUPAC ask UNESCO to allocate sufficient
financial resources in 1999 to help fund IUPAC-organized regional
workshops to study, prioritize and integrate the various subprojects
and budgets into a single long-term plan, and to fund other African
chemistry-related activities. Thereafter, UNESCO would probably have
to solicit the larger amounts of funds needed to implement such a
plan from sponsoring governments, both within and outside of the region.
IUPAC should appoint a task group of outstanding African chemists
to help coordinate such regional initiatives and actions regarding
the central issues of capacity building and scientific-professional
These efforts must also be closely monitored; and IUPAC's commitment
to longer-term support must be linked to demonstrable progress. This
follows from both the seriousness of the problem and our global approach.
If successful, IUPAC's African Chemistry Initiative could be a useful
model for similar initiatives in other regions of the developing world.
If unsuccessful, limited - perhaps irreplaceable - resources and opportunities
will have been squandered.
I, for one, am confident that, with our joint effort and goodwill,
this bold initiative in chemistry for the benefit of all mankind will
succeed. Indeed, considering mankind's future basic needs, it must
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Page last modified 15 December 1998.
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