The SciDev.Net blog is moving

June 24, 2013

We have launched a shiny new SciDev.Net website and we are taking our event blog over there. Since we started this blog we have had numerous journalists cover events relating to science and development from around the world. We will continue to post from events, but over on our SciDev.Net at large blog.

Thank you for joining us and we hope you continue to read our coverage in its new home.

Click here to visit our new site.


Genocide, community and NGOs

April 28, 2013

Daniel Nelson

Daniel Nelson
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


When Terry Cannon accused fossil fuel corporations of genocide for continuing to explore for oil, gas and coal, he caused eyebrows to rise. Yet some of his other remarks to the final session of the conference on community-based adaptation to climate change – and to a short parallel course on monitoring and evaluation – may prove to be both less sensational and more controversial (not least because he told me later that he had not intended to use the g-word).

For example, he questioned the morality of non-governmental organisations that were interested only in the people in their project areas. Given that these projects touched only a small proportion of the public, he said, unless NGOs designed activities so that they could be scaled up without cost, they would be failing. Is that ethical, he asked.

“If we don’t help everyone adapt, there will be hunger and crisis,” he told participants on the course, run by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, set up in Dhaka by Saleemul Huq, who is also one of the organisers of the conference.

That wasn’t Cannon’s only challenge.

He questioned the very idea of “community”: “Communities are not warm and cuddly… it’s we who find community convenient. It fits in with what we want to do and what funders want. Let’s not be afraid to talk about class and power.”

There was also a need to design top-down policies that would help people adapt to climate change, he said: not a revolutionary idea in itself, but not the sort of language that participants in community-based activities – proud of their bottom-up approach – are accustomed to hearing.

Investment in community-based adaptation was infinitesimal compared with the billions spent annually on subsidies for fossil fuels and agriculture and on fossil fuel exploration: “We are tiny gnats trying to push an elephant,” he commented. “I’m not convinced agencies are interested in scaling up. They are comfortable working in projects.”

Cannon, a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK, also said that NGOs needed to experiment if they were to find policies to deal with climate change, and that meant they should seek funds for research rather than projects. It might mean, too, going into partnership with academics and research organisations, and becoming more scientific – donors would demand that they do so.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International Conference on Community-based Adaptation which takes place 22-25 April 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.


Disappointing lack of representation from Arab countries

April 24, 2013

Nehal Lasheen

Nehal Lasheen
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net



Attending a conference under the title of ‘Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries’,  I expected to find a distinct and remarkable presence of female and male scientists from most of the Arab countries.

I therefore felt a bit down when I found that many countries were not represented, particularly countries from the Gulf that have begun to have effective impact on science field in the region, such as like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While the number of attendees did not exceed 100, more than 20 per cent of them were from countries outside the Arab region, including India and Pakistan.

When I asked the organisers about this, they replied that they had contacted many institutions in most of the Arab countries, but had received a weak response and not much enthusiasm towards the conference.

This might reflect the lack of support that many women scientists in Arab countries face, particularly with obtaining leadership positions.

On a more positive note, a high number of Arab women scientists were persent in the conference sessions.

However, this highlighted the very weak presence of male scientists – the hall was packed with women, while you could barely find one or two men and there was only one male among the speakers.

The situation raised some laughter during the sessions, with women pointing out that although “there is no science of women and science of men”, male scientists appeared to have kept their distance.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries which takes place 21-23 April 2013, in Kuwait City, Kuwait. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.


Arab women scientists mourn the loss of Syrian researcher

April 24, 2013

Rehab Abd Almohsen

Rehab Abd Almohsen
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


While the armed conflict in Syria is closing its second year, a gathering of more than 100 Arab women scientists in Kuwait take this as chance to remember the loss of their Syrian colleague, scientist Ahlam Imad who were assassinated by armed groups in June 2011.

The professor at the Faculty of Petrochemical Engineering Faculty at al-Baath University in Homs was killed when a group of gunmen broke into her family house and shot her down along with five of her family members, including three children.

“She was one of the active members of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World [OWSD] and just before she died she was about to establish a national chapter of OWSD in Syria,” Rokshana Ismail, chemistry professor in Aden University told the attendees of the International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries   (21-23 April), in Kuwait City.

Imad is not the only scientist that was killed during the last two years in Syria, a nuclear scientist Aws Abdul Karim Khalil assassinated in Homs in September 2011, the science professor and missiles expert Nabil Zougheib was killed with his wife and two sons on 21 July 2012 in Damascus, Issa Al Khouli, head of Hamish military hospital was killed in Damascus in February 2012.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries which takes place 21-23 April 2013, in Kuwait City, Kuwait. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.


Climate change delegates stranded in Dhaka hotel

April 24, 2013

Daniel Nelson

Daniel Nelson
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


A conference on community-based adaptation to climate change in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is in lock down because of a “hartal”, or general strike, which aims to bring commercial life in the city to a halt. The strike makes it risky to leave the hotel that is staging the meeting and where most participants are staying. Demonstrators use sticks and stones and occasionally fire to enforce their action, and the conference hotel has “strongly recommended” guests not leave the premises during the 36-hour protest.

That solves the problem faced by all such conferences of participants going for walks or shopping and failing to attend sessions on time. But the organisers have provided in-house entertainment with a number of “out of the box” sessions, the star of which was a climate change game under development by game champion Pablo Suarez. For more than an hour groups of participants representing communities, doctors and governments rolled dice, jumped up, sat down, made instant decisions and gambled beans competing fiercely with each other and with the clock.

The extraordinary thing about such games is how quickly players of all genders, cultures and roles assume the identities they have been assigned and enter into the spirit of role-play.

Suarez, associate director for research and innovation for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre – and a member of the Games for A New Climate Taskforce – is an enthusiastic proponent of games, which he says are an entertaining and effective way of learning.

“They can elicit behaviour that is likely to happen in the real world”, he says, and can vividly illustrate elements such as complexity, risk and unexpected events – “Knowing what is likely to happen is useful but is not enough”.

He says that “serious games” involve brain power and emotions, “and everyone engages”.

Judging by the whoops of excitement from the winning groups and the buzz and applause at the end of the session, every conference needs a game.

In a later session, a comment by Gareth Jones of Oxfam introduced a different form of reality. He told the organisers that the proceedings were engendering “a sense of false optimism”. True, said conference host Saleemul Huq, “but we wouldn’’t be here if we were no’t optimistic.”

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International Conference on Community-based Adaptation which takes place 22-25 April 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.


Rising from the ashes of revolution: women scientists in Yemen

April 23, 2013

Nehal Lasheen

Nehal Lasheen
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


 

Yemen scores poorly in the fields of science and technology, ranking alongside some of the world’s least developed countries, such as Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan.

But in recent years, Yemen has also produced some distinguished women scientists, according to Rokshana Ismail, professor of chemistry at Aden University, Yemen.

“We do not have specific science policies, like Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia, where they have [made] great strides in the field of scientific research” Ismail says.

The scientific community in Yemen is trying to invest in the Arab spring revolution to bring about change without further bloodshed, she adds.

Ismail says there are new policies in the Arab countries that aim to drive fresh insights, and that Yemen should invest in these policies positively through giving priority to scientific research.

“Unfortunately, after the Arab spring revolution, the  funding priority of many funding organisations was to attempt to save and rebuild what had been torn down”, she told attendees at the International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries (21-23 April), in Kuwait City.

For example, if a scientific researcher approaches a funding body with a research proposal, the organisation would reject it because new research is not a priority in the current situation.

In spite of this, 30 per cent of the total number of high school graduates in Yemen specialise in the fields of science and technology. A good share of these students are women, and there are some distinguished women scientists in the country, including Huda Omer Ba Saleem.

Ba Saleem is a Yemeni scientist who has been working to establish a network of women scientists in the Arab world. She was among five researchers to receive the first Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World, an award scheme launched in 2012.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries which takes place 21-23 April 2013, in Kuwait City, Kuwait. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.


Leadership role models ‘lacking’ for Arab women scientists

April 22, 2013

Nehal Lasheen

Nehal Lasheen
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net



Female Arab scientists are still under-represented in key positions and in many departments, according to Rowaida Al-Ma’aitah, a professor at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, Amman.

“Although women scientists in the Arab world have leadership qualifications, the lack of female scientists in leadership positions limits our influence,” she says. “Women advance more slowly than men into academic leadership positions.”

Some of the most important barriers to leadership for women in academia, in Al- Ma’aitah’s opinion, are the lack of access to career advice, mentoring and socialising for women faculty; as well as invisible factors that keep women from rising to the top.

Al- Ma’aitah says she has personally experienced discrimination. She told attendees of the International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries (21-23 April), in Kuwait City, that she was a new manager when one of her male employees told her that there was “no way” that he was going to work “under a female manager”.

“I told him, do whatever you want because I am staying,” she says. “And after a few months he saw my performance and the difference I had made, and he appreciated me very much since then.”

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries which takes place 21-23 April 2013, in Kuwait City, Kuwait. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.


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