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Science priorities ignore Colombia's water needs

Naturevolume 431page125 (2004) | Download Citation

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The government did not consult with the scientific community on reforms.

Sir

Colciencias, the Colombian agency responsible for funding scientific research, is trying to overcome critically low investment in science and technology by establishing scientific research consortia in six strategic areas. These ‘centres of research excellence’ will have a budget of US$1.7 million per centre over the next five years. The current call for proposals, which ends on 24 September, sadly ignores research related to water resources and the environment. This is a major omission, but our efforts to correct it have been in vain.

For the most part, the selected areas are relevant and genuine priorities, including biodiversity and genetic resources; infectious tropical diseases; energy development; biotechnology and food innovation. However, critical areas — most notably water and the environment — are being ignored in a country facing urgent challenges. Such omissions are made more striking by the inclusion of nanotechnology in the list of national priorities: a field unlikely to flourish here, given the lack of expertise.

Issues such as water availability and supply, water-resource management and planning, are continuing challenges in Colombia. The provision of safe drinking water is an immediate necessity for our children, dozens of whom suffer and die every day as a result of drinking polluted water. Intense tropical storms trigger flash floods and avalanches along Colombian rivers; droughts claim an even higher toll.

According to IDEAM (Colombia's public agency for hydrology, meteorology and environment), the deterioration of the Colombian environment is accelerating. The interaction between natural and social systems in the tropical Andes is one of our most urgent research challenges.

Perhaps most worrisome is the process by which the Colciencias list was drawn up. Hundreds of leading scientists and scientific institutions in Colombia, including ours, did not participate in any way in its creation. The priorities discussed in government internal documents were not circulated publicly, let alone reviewed thoroughly by the wider scientific community. It is essential that Colciencias actively involves the community in these processes, to guarantee their legitimacy and relevance for the country, in both scientific and social terms.

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  1. Graduate Programme in Water Resources, School of Geosciences and Environment, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellín, Colombia

    • Germán Poveda

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https://doi.org/10.1038/431125a

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