The specific technologies that are suitable for addressing development problems vary widely from country to country. In some cases, continued use of well-established health, agriculture, and engineering technologies may be more practical than adopting newer technologies that are increasingly used in industrialized countries. An important key to successful development is the capability of a country—through its governmental and increasingly its private sector institutions—to be able to select those technologies that can be effectively used and maintained at affordable costs.

Unfortunately the importance of developing S&T capacity may not be adequately reflected in the economic, research, and education policies and programs of the countries themselves or in projects advocated by their foreign partners. Only limited attention is often paid to policies that provide incentives for government or private sector organizations to invest in suitable technologies, that support training programs for the local purveyors and users of technologies—however advanced—and that ensure that product quality standards are met. Frequently public and private sector institutions simply purchase technologies that are promoted by foreign sales representatives or accept recommendations of international partners with little local appreciation of the effectiveness and limitations of the technologies that are acquired. However, many developing country governments are now striving to have stronger indigenous technical capacities to select and, when necessary, to adapt both local and imported technologies to help ensure they will perform adequately in the physical, economic, and social environments where they will be deployed. Experienced local researchers can often provide helpful advice during the selection process.

BOX 3-1

USAID has played an important role in the establishment in Bangladesh of a system of monitoring levels of rivers that flood populated islands and low-lying coastal areas each year. These efforts, together with efforts of the government and other donors, have saved the lives of thousands of residents of flood-prone areas each year.

SOURCE: Unpublished report of the NRC Committee on Science and Technology in Foreign Assistance on field visit to Bangladesh, January 2005.

Turning to an area where millions of lives are repeatedly at stake each year, the need for local capabilities to effectively use technologies that help provide early warning of natural disasters and to support prompt and effective responses following a disaster is demonstrated all too often. USAID has a good record of supporting the deployment of modern technologies in response to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other unpredictable events, but USAID has given less attention to improving capabilities of countries to prepare for and respond to such events once the international support teams have left the scene following an event. Two contrasting examples of responding to the challenge are set forth in Boxes 3-1 and 3-2.

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