The Australian government has promised to inject more than AU$20 million (around US$18 million) annually into research in the Asia Pacific region by 2010.
The focus will be on research in the region's 'fragile states' — countries that have poorly developed government structures and are unable to provide basic services such as healthcare. In the past this has included countries such as Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), Cambodia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
The increased funding will be administered by AusAID, the Australian government's overseas aid programme, and is part of its new three-year strategy (2008–2010) to improve the quality and impact of development research in the region.
"AusAID-funded research in the Asia-Pacific region fills an important gap, as there is generally less focus on research in these countries compared to other regions," Bob McMullan, the Australian government's parliamentary secretary for international development assistance, told SciDev.Net.
The strategy aims to strengthen the influence of research findings on policymaking.
"Good research with practical outcomes will lead to a more effective Australian aid programme," says McMullan. "It provides the evidence base for future policy decisions and sensible programme implementation."
Part of AusAID's strategy will be to develop countries' research capacity and expertise to solve local problems, introduce peer review of research proposals and introduce competitive funding in the form of the Australian Development Research Awards — open to both developed and developing country researchers — to incentivise innovative ideas and strategies.
The research priorities for 2008 will be published on the AusAID website in April, and the 2008 awards round will commence in June.
Challenges relating to the Millennium Development Goals — such as climate change impacts, health system strengthening and poverty reduction — will be prioritised, says McMullan.
One of the first beneficiaries of the new funding is a project undertaken by the University of Queensland, Australia, addressing the lack of reliable mortality data in island countries in the Pacific.
"The research will provide governments with tools to strengthen their health information systems, build a stronger evidence base for policy and programmes, and encourage solutions to produce more reliable data," says McMullan.
He added that researchers funded by AusAID will be required to prepare a communication strategy and consider the need to work with policymakers at all stages of their projects.