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IAEA General Conference
45th Regular Session

Programme and Abstracts (pdf file)
Prof. Sach's Keynote
Dr. ElBaradei's Statement
Session reports:
Food & Water
Final Oral Report

Serving Human Needs
Report to the 45th IAEA General Conference from the 4th Scientific Forum:
"Nuclear technology for sustainable development: Serving human needs."

Mr. President,

1. The principal objective of the Scientific Forum was to increase Member States’ awareness that technical co-operation in non-power applications can produce cost-effective solutions to high-priority problems of sustainable development and create positive socioeconomic impact. The Forum was well attended and was greatly enriched by the participation of eminent experts and an audience that covers a broad range of experience and perspectives including development specialists, economists, public information specialists and policy makers.

2. Experts in the field of sustainable development analyzed the interconnections between science, technology and development. Discussions were held in the context of the need to develop mechanisms that will enhance the role of technical cooperation in mobilizing science and technology activities in response to the growing challenge of serving human needs in Member States in a sustainable manner. Two keynote addresses by internationally prominent experts on science and development identified four impediments to the successful transfer of technology to, and its utilization by, developing countries. These included 1) the small "marketplace" that exists for technological innovations in poor countries; 2) the difficulties of achieving and maintaining in these countries a critical mass of scientists and engineers; 3) the basic ecological differences that often render temperate-zone technology inapplicable to the tropics, where most of the world’s poor live; and 4) the disproportionate impact of anthropogenic climate change on poor, tropical countries. It is noteworthy that, while the first factor is largely beyond the Agency’s power to influence, the IAEA’s technical co-operation efforts do address the other three by, first, helping to create and maintain cadres of well-trained scientists and engineers through human resource development activities that reach more than 4,000 persons each year; second, by assisting in the development and transfer of technology that focuses on solving poor countries real problems; and third, by helping to keep open the option of energy sources that do not involve greenhouse gas emissions.

3. The Forum focused on three areas of nuclear applications. Successful cases of technology transfer in the application of non-power nuclear technologies for the promotion of food security, management of water resources and improving human health, were reviewed by specialists in those areas.

4. The first area of focus was improving food security covering the key roles of isotopes and radiation in enhancing food security through overcoming basic ecological constraints on agricultural productivity as well as their use in promoting more efficient use of land, water and biological resources.

5. Presentations highlighted the Sterile Insect Technique as a highly successful intervention tool against a variety of insect pests and vectors of disease. The use and cost-benefit attributes of the Sterile Insect Technique as a tool for the control or eradication of the Mediterranean fruit fly in different countries were reviewed and their impact assessed.

6. One of Africa's most serious constraints in agricultural production is trypanosomosis, a severe disease affecting human beings and domestic animals, which is transmitted by the tsetse fly. The problem of the tsetse fly has, in recent times, reached unprecedented levels with increased tsetse fly infestation and record high disease incidence, a situation that has been greatly exacerbated by the unavailability of effective or sustainable methods of eliminating the tsetse fly vector or treating the disease. IAEA and FAO developed the Sterile Insect Technique against tsetse flies and demonstrated its effectiveness in a model project conducted in cooperation with the United Republic of Tanzania on the island of Zanzibar. This success has fuelled the hopes of affected African countries in the possibility of eliminating the scourge of tsetse-transmitted diseases from Africa and led to the adoption of a Decision by the African Heads of State and Government, urging countries to embark on a Pan Africa Tsetse Eradication Campaign (PATTEC).

7. Another presentation illustrated the important role of radiation in plant breeding. Exposing seeds and other plant tissues to radiation enhances the mutation rate and increases the overall genetic variability to create new cultivars. Examples of large economic gains resulting from the use of improved mutant cultivars were given. The new advances in molecular biology will enhance the role and importance of induced mutations as a tool for identifying genes and understanding their function.

8. The second area of focus was water resource management where the discussion was on the role of isotope hydrology in enabling a sustainable management of water resources. The earth's limited freshwater resources are under increasing stress from a growing population and over one billion people still lack access to safe drinking water. Lack of adequate knowledge of the processes governing the hydrological cycle and poor management practices constrain our ability to provide sufficient water for sustaining human development. The needs for improved hydrological information and integrated approaches to water resource development and management were highlighted in this session. One of the presentations focused on the status of water resource assessment and development in Ethiopia, where only about 5% of the total water resource potential has been exploited so far while significant shortfalls remain in fulfilling the domestic and agricultural water demands. The second presentation discussed one of the major public health crises of our times resulting from arsenic poisoning of groundwater used for drinking in Bangladesh. Over a hundred million people are affected by this and there is an urgent need to find alternative sources of safe drinking water for the rural population. Both presentations noted the crucial role of isotope applications in developing the hydrological knowledge base for management decisions. The panel members for this session provided a more in-depth discussion of the critical nature of the water resources and the potential benefits of the use of isotope hydrology.

9. The session on improving human health discussed the use of isotopes in a variety of areas – disease diagnosis, human nutrition and cancer treatment. One presentation dealt with a programme for neonatal screening for congenital hypothyroidism and phenylketonuria in Thailand. Over 1.4 million babies have so far been screened under the programme and it is expected that by the year 2002 all newborns will be provided with screening services resulting in a better quality life for the next generation. The presentation on radiotherapy for cancer treatment outlined the programme in Costa Rica, emphasizing the growing problem of cancer in developing countries as a function of improvement in life expectancy of the populations. During panel discussion the success story of the establishment of radiotherapy facilities in Ghana through technical cooperation with the Agency were highlighted. The critical importance of well-trained personnel and a quality control system for ensuring administration of effective and safe treatment were emphasized.

10. Isotopic methods provide sensitive measurements of biological effects and are faster than conventional methods for detecting changes in growth and body composition. Aspects of micronutrient malnutrition, such as the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals, breast milk volume and intake, energy expenditure and balance, etc are easier to evaluate with isotopic than biochemical methods. Stable isotopes have been used, to good effect, to evaluate nutritional intervention schemes, such as mineral supplementation programmes, to guide the design and optimisation of the refinement necessary to correct particular disorders.

11. A number of generic issues were addressed in the lively panel discussions that included active participation from the floor.

  • There are a many techniques that can be used to address some major agricultural, health and climate issues of importance to the socio-economic development of member states – issues that market forces do not necessarily drive – but these have not been fully exploited. It was recognized that there is a need to get to users – growers, patients etc. The following questions were asked. Which of these techniques are applied? Do current procedures actually make this happen? It was recognized that the process of technology transfer was not simple; it is a shared responsibility between Member States and the Secretariat. It was also acknowledged that some technologies sell themselves while others need working through. One important factor for success is to identify clients or customers for the technology and making sure that they are talked to.
  • Government commitment is crucial for successful technology transfer and application. In this respect the role of the Country Programme Frameworks (CPFs) that are developed jointly by Member States and the Secretariat are crucial. To ensure that CPFs effectively serve the purpose they are intended for, ownership must be with Member States.
  • Comparative technology assessment: It is acknowledged that nuclear technology alone may not be able to address certain problems and a package involving both nuclear and non-nuclear technologies may be needed. Moreover, the nuclear component of a technological package varies in importance. Thus, a comparative technology assessment is always needed before investments are made by Member States. An effective blend of nuclear and non-nuclear technologies is one that incorporates the knowledge available on ground and adaptation to local conditions. Thus, this assessment should be done by Member States themselves and the role of the Agency is to provide advice and information to support the assessment and decision-making. A number of factors such as direct and indirect benefits, cost, environmental impact, and public opinion need to be considered. Successful programmes are often complex because they link all the factors during planning and implementation.
  • The TC Strategy is based on the concept of "Partnership in Development". Partnership with other organizations such as FAO, WHO, UNEP and NGOs is important because nuclear technology is not a stand alone technology at problem solving level and needs to be part of a package. A number of factors essential for effective partnership were discussed.
  • Related to the issue of partnership is the involvement of the Private Sector. The private sector is needed not only as consumers of the technology but also as a source of funds for technology transfer programmes. It was, however, stressed that even under the environment of free-market economy the public sector is needed for guaranteeing funding and for offsetting private sector losses.
  • Sustainability and self-reliance are considered essential elements of technical cooperation. Sustainability and self-reliance considerations should be built into the Country Programme Frameworks and, since the Agency’s technical cooperation programmes are implemented through individual projects, the design of each of these projects should include relevant elements where applicable.
  • Human capacity building is central in technology transfer to address developmental needs. The Forum noted that the Agency is playing an important role in this area and needs to enhance this function.
  • Public information is crucial for promoting the use of nuclear technology and for attracting Government commitment. It is important for the public to understand how science and technology works because it is they who will finally determine whether or not a certain technology is adopted.

12. The Forum provided an excellent opportunity not only to highlight the important role that non-power nuclear technologies can play in assisting Member States in their efforts to meet basic needs – related to food security, health, water and environment, but also provided an opportunity for Member States, the Agency and other partners to discuss how they can work together to further enhance sustainable technology transfers.

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