40 Years of the IAEA
Steps to Sustain Basic Human Needs

Atomic energy inspired high and lofty dreams generations ago - of electricity so cheap to generate that people everywhere could have it...of cars, trains, and flying machines that would run on longlife powerpacks...of desalting ocean waters and turning arid deserts green. As David Fischer recounts in his rich history of the IAEA, many people then so fiercely awakened to the atom's dark side in the war-torn 1940s later strongly embraced the 1950s cause of harnessing its brighter future. Winston Churchill saw the peaceful atom as a "perennial fountain of world prosperity". He was not alone among the day's politicians or scientists.

Alongside deep fears and stark realities of the post-war years, those early dreams set the imperatives, popular images, and expectations for the peaceful development of atomic energy, and the roles of the IAEA. Not all the dreams withstood the tests of time, and some died early. But many more were studied, pursued, and demonstrated in research laboratories, hospitals, and farmer's fields. They yield lasting results societies benefit from today.

The past decade's major events and political changes transformed the global picture significantly, and left their signature on the IAEA's programmes for peaceful nuclear cooperation. Chernobyl, the Gulf War, the Iraq inspections, alarms over global warming, health problems of "hidden hunger", agricultural threats in Africa and Latin America, concerns over radiological safety at old nuclear dumping and testing sites in the Arctic seas and the South Pacific - all commanded action. They tested the capabilities of nuclear-based tools and the readiness of the IAEA to mobilize its own and others' analytical, laboratory, and technical resources for investigating, solving, and preventing serious problems.

Now, as the decade unwinds, nuclear technologies, like many others, increasingly are tested on commercial and developmental, not military, fronts. The world's changed global security climate and rising concerns about social and environmental threats to the earth's "sustainable development" are key reasons why. States meeting at the UN's Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992 set targets for the next century, adopting the document called Agenda 21. They revisited the Agenda - examining water, food, environmental, and other problems - and gauged progress at a UN special session in June this year. On many key issues, they found the distance to go long and hard, the politics difficult, and the costs high.

At another key event - when Parties in May 1995 gave permanent life to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and associated IAEA safeguards agreements - States strongly reaffirmed governmental interest and support for global nuclear cooperation through IAEA channels. They lauded Agency approaches and initiatives for the transfer of peaceful nuclear technologies, especially for strengthened technical cooperation and nuclear safety programmes. Renewed efforts were needed, they said, to adequately fund and support them.

So newly challenged and directed, today's global picture is framed in familiar fields of long-held dreams and new realities. The dream of health for all...and the reality of child malnutrition. The dream of food in every hand...and the reality of eroding soils. The dream of fresh water to drink...and the reality of drying wells. The dream of a safe environment to live in...and the reality of polluted air.

Nuclear energy - fresh from long years of being saddled and strained by polarizing images of "mushroom clouds" and "perennial fountains" - can make new and important contributions for sustaining basic human needs. Proven tools and expertise are at hand. Supported through targeted IAEA projects, people in countries around the world are demonstrating how their dreams to overcome some hard realities can drive and sustain their own futures, and their nation's social and economic development. - Lothar Wedekind

Mansour Shahein and his family are part of a modern day "atomic" dream in Maradja, Egypt. On a farm in arid countryside, they grow wheat, fruit trees, sugar cane and other crops on lands that once were desert. Their fields, and others like it in this oasis village, rely totally on water tapped from seventy kilometres underground. Where the water comes from - see page from the Nile river or an aquifer deep below the sands - and how long the wells will last, no one yet knows. They are now beginning to find out. Egyptian hydrologists are gathering data about the groundwater's origins and capacity using isotopic methods of investigation. What they learn will help them better manage the water supply or identify other sources that can prolong the years of harvests for Manzour and farming families in Maradja. The IAEA is supporting their efforts through a regional water project extending beyond Egypt to Morocco, Senegal, and Ethiopia. Less than one percent of the world's total fresh water resources is found in the Middle East and North Africa. As scientists explore their region's water lifelines, isotope techniques could hold the answers to sustain scarce and fragile resources. - based on a report by David Kinley, IAEA Division of Public Information.