A scientific research and training institute deploying remote-sensing space technology for the rescue of the rapidly deteriorating African environment is expected to be set up shortly in two components based in Zambia and the Ivory Coast.
The projected Institute for Natural Resources in Africa is planned by the United Nations University with backing from the United States and other Western countries. Progress toward its establishment and the corresponding coordination of scientific work progressing at many African universities indirectly result from the recent big drought and famine costing many thousands of lives across the continent.The institute will cost $50 million to establish and $4.5 million a year to run, according to UN University estimates. It will be a pacesetter in the application of remote-sensing space technology in such spheres as long-range resource planning and food production. It is to stimulate training and research, meeting the scientific and industrial needs of some of the world's poorest countries.
Its establishment has been subject to intense and frustrating discussions involving the UN University and various African governments for some years. The UN University planners have always understood the inherent difficulties arising from the classified nature of most information related to natural resources in Africa.
On the one hand, the institute will have to win the support of states obsessed with national as well as commercial security. On the other, it must share specialist knowledge among the continent's various scientific institutions, overriding those very obsessions.
Awareness of the common peril resulting from the relentless environmental degradation over much of the continent may perhaps help governments overcome their jealousies.
A resolution passed earlier in the year by the Organization of African Unity has urged member countries to cooperate in the formation of the institute, sharing knowledge related to land use, water, plant, animal and mineral resources as well as energy management. And the governments of Zambia and the Ivory Coast have made definite offers to host the institute.
Backing for the project is expected from many countries concerned with the development of the famine belt of the planet, including the United States, Britain and others. Several international financial and development agencies, such as the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Program, are expected also to support the venture, together with the global scientific establishment involved with the work of the UN University.
Mostafa K. Tolba, executive director of the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme, recently told a conference of African environment ministers: "We are concerned with a continent in crisis. Africa is suffering from a continual degradation of its natural resources, including the climate.
"There are still some areas of relative prosperity in Africa based for the most part on the massive export of non-renewable primary resources. But the general degradation has led to the poverty of the African peoples and the lowering of their quality of life . . . "
The conference was held in Cairo to seek a common remedy to a continental disaster caused by a combination of natural calamities and the general mismanagement of the environment. One achievement of the conference was a
binding commitment by the participating governments to establish an organizational structure for sharing the knowledge and pooling the work of their scientific and technological institutions.
The UN University's criteria for the locations of the projected institute include free access to tele-systems, especially for obtaining real-time remote-sensing data and establishing on-line access to data banks.
It will be a medium-sized international organization with its work program carried out through a network of participating scientists and institutions throughout the continent. It is to provide the necessary initial expertise and facilities enabling its participants to achieve a competitive edge and the capacity to undertake consultancy services.
Its work will necessitate a range of research facilities beyond the reach of most universities in Africa. It will promote interaction between the modern scientific approach and traditional empirical knowledge and skills.
The research associates of the institute will be appointed for a five-year term each, with the possibility of renewal. Eventually, they will be drawn
from all countries of the continent but, at the start of the scheme, the selection process will concentrate on the assembly of a critical mass of scientific and technological capabilities in the shortest possible time.
The training scheme will be closely related to the research and development work of the institute. It will be planned to help African countries increase their domestic research capabilities and to develop composite skills for the collection and processing of data for practical applications.