When science is abandoned [Archives:2005/803/Viewpoint]

January 3 2005

The catastrophe of the massive tsunami that affected South East Asia has indeed devastated millions of people in this region. Described to be as high as 10 m, this natural phenomenon has swept away shantytowns, coastal resorts, and caused misery for so many people.

However, what I heard in the BBC about the fact that so many casualties would have been prevented if there had been a center for early earthquake and tsunami warning research center, I felt truly sad.

It does take time for the waves to reach the shores, and even if they could not have been prevented, there still would have been chances to save millions of souls from injury or death.

Scientists in developing countries have usually been neglected and scientific and research centers are rarely invested in those countries. The magnitude of devastation and loss in lives in this region was attributed indirectly to the lack of will of developing countries to invest heavily in science and scientists, paving the way for such misery.

Coming to our case in Yemen, just recently we witnessed another set back in terms of limiting investments in science. Just a few days ago, an official announcement had cut the budget of scholarships for Yemenis to study abroad. This step was meant to help the Yemeni economy recover, but in my opinion, it is the worst step that one could take to help our country recover neither in the economic front, nor in any other.

Many calls have repeatedly been addressed to Yemen from international organizations, human development experts, and strategic thinkers asking the regime to focus on investing in people, particularly in health, education and science. Nevertheless, we end up finding that the authorities decided to cut the education-related salary and continue to spend massive amounts on military installations and weaponry.

I believe abandoning science and discouraging education will result in long-term repercussions in the future of the country. In a time we need to have our younger generation attain the maximum quality of education standards -something they cannot have in Yemen-, we are pushing them back to diminish their ambitions and lose hope in academic achievement and broader knowledge.

The tsunami of Sunday should be a hint to us that there are certain things that science can do, which is to aid governments to see the dangers of natural disasters and act swiftly to prevent damage as much as possible, that military might and arms race cannot. Hence, more emphasis on science on the part of developing countries could definitely help avoid preventable damage in the future.

I hope that our Arab governments, and in our case the Yemen government, would begin to focus more on education and science and less on arms and weapons when considering fiscal budgets. This is important to push for better development in our country and a brighter future for our children.