Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A Worldwide Synergy

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A Worldwide Synergy

Article excerpt

"We're not doing any research ourselves, but we help with research at an international level. We don't have any laboratories of our own, yet we work with the best labs in the world. We don't teach, but thanks to us knowledge gets around."

Andras Szollosi-Nagy, head of UNESCO'S International Hydrological Programme (IHP), wants to avoid any misunderstanding: even though he is trained as a scientist and his work deals with science, he is first and foremost a "scientific manager". A term that applies as well to his colleagues working for the other three international scientific programmes at UNESCO: the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), and the International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP).

"We achieve a worldwide synergy of local research," says MAB Director Berndt Von Droste. Synergy is the key word in the role played by UNESCO with these programmes. They offer (but do not impose) procedures on which scientists in distant labs can rely to work effectively as a global team. These procedures thus help researchers in prioritizing their activities on a worldwide scale, in dividing up tasks according to each team's strengths, and in coordinating the projects, making information and results available to all. In diplomatic jargon, this is "international intellectual co-operation." For Szollosi-Nagy, it is more simply a way to "put together all the pieces of the puzzle and get a global picture."


With the worldwide impact of environmental problems such as pollution, the greenhouse effect, climatic changes, and urbanization, the concept of working together on a global scale seems obvious today. At the time when UNESCo's international programmes got under way, however, this idea had little weight. In particular, the South was then kept out of major developments, most of the research capacity being concentrated in the North. One of the great merits of UNEsco's programmes lies in links built between North and South--and, little by little, between South and South--by adding Third World scientists to their endeavours, by helping in the development of science in the South, and especially by making significant efforts in local training.

Innovating in new fields went along with this extended geographical reach: MAB, the IOC, the IHP and the IGCP have been pioneers in the study of tropical ecosystems, which were previously little known even though three-quarters of the world's population live in the tropics. …

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