Can Geoscience genuinely assist with international development?

Mike Petterson, SOPAC

Monday, December 16, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Building 3, Room 3240 (main USGS conference room)
Jim Hein

When the huge developmental challenges of the world such as extreme and persistent poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and gross inequality are considered it can be difficult to see a way forward for geoscience in terms of international development. Furthermore many geoscientists have little experience in, or focus on ‘geoscience for development’. The language of science and the language of aid providers are quite different as can be their respective ‘culture’ and view of the world. Development experts tend to see the world in terms of ‘good governance’, ‘poverty alleviation’, ‘primary health education and welfare’ and so forth. They struggle to see what a subject such as geoscience can bring to development in terms of solutions, and may even struggle to understand what ‘geoscience’ really means. One answer to this conundrum is to apply those aspects of geoscience that are particularly conducive to international development and donor agencies, and to couple these subject areas with solutions that directly address donor agendas, to enable geoscientists to gain a foothold in the market. Once in the market place with a proven track record things can become easier. One area has to be wealth and job creation in combatting poverty and unemployment and natural resource development can be an economic driver. Good governance can be achieved through the careful twinning of institutions in the Developed World with appropriate Ministries that deal with science and natural resources, and targeted capacity building. Developing the urban environment and infrastructure with the assistance of geological data and expertise can result in a safer and longer lasting built environment. Assistance in developing renewable energy in the form of geothermal power, hydro-power, wind and wave power as well as hydrocarbons can provide power solutions at a range of scales that bring power for the first time to remote rural communities. Using geohazard expertise to reduce risk can save millions of lives. And of course assistance with clean water resources and supply brings a fundamental human right to very poor people.

This talk will use examples from the application of geoscience in two radically different settings: Afghanistan between 2003 and the present day and the Pacific over the past 20 years. Key challenges presented will include: why aid donors finally became interested in geoscience for nation building in Afghanistan and some of the results of this intervention, and how geoscience struggles to survive and make the impact it should in development within the scattered island nations of Oceania. Hopefully the talk will demonstrate that for geoscience to make a difference there have to be a number of ‘ground rules’. 1) Know your country and culture as well as you can; 2) spend lots of time on the ground understanding the biggest priorities and agendas that need addressing; 3) work with local people in designing work activities, programmes and outputs; 4) think creatively and appropriately about the best sort of geoscientific intervention that builds capacity and sustainability; 5) persuade funders to be in this for the ‘long haul’; 6) Have patience, don’t despair and focus on ‘the journey’ rather than ‘the milestones’.

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