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September 26, 2017

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Science vital to cut scale of disasters: U.N. report

Developing the scientific potential of poor nations could reduce the scale of disasters like the Asian tsunami, researchers said on Thursday.

As nations pledged billions to help victims of the disaster and aid agencies struggled to help the more than 1.5 million left homeless, members of a United Nations Task Force wrote in a report of the danger of ignoring the importance of science and technology.

"The terrible devastation caused by the tsunamis last week raises the question of whether enough was invested in adopting existing technologies which could have reduced the scale of the disaster," said Professor Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, a lead author of the report.

Discussions on establishing an early warning system should be part of a larger context of developing technology and science in poor nations, he told a news conference.

"Developed countries should reflect, in the wake of this disaster, on the price of investing in building the scientific and technological capacity of developing countries to prevent the impacts of natural disasters, compared to the huge costs of responding through international aid after the disasters have occurred," Juma said.

The report said a lack of scientific advice to governments and international organizations was a stumbling block in tackling the problems of developing countries.

"Money spent on developing the science and technology potential of countries is an investment in preventing the worst effects of diseases and natural disasters," Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, said in a statement.

"Although it is easy to be wise after the event, it now seems tragically short-sighted that discussions initiated two years ago about an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean were not given greater priority." Juma emphasized the importance of learning from the disaster and of sharing the knowledge to avert future catastrophes.

"The lessons should be shared globally," he said.

The report, which will be presented to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later this month, said a lack of investment in developing science and technology could threaten the achievement of the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of people in developing countries.

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