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Lebanon plans to spend 50 billion Lebanese pounds (US$33 million) over the next five years to develop science, technology and innovation in areas relevant to the country's needs.

Under a national plan unveiled on 27 April, Lebanon will increase the number of graduate and postgraduate training opportunities, set up new research centres, and promote scientific partnerships between public institutions and industry.

Lebanon developed the plan in collaboration with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

Peter Tindemans, a UNESCO consultant who contributed to the plan, says it should provide the funds, direction and environment needed to re-orient Lebanon's economy and society, and create "more skilled jobs, and solve social challenges by embracing science and technology".

Research areas identified as priorities include biotechnology for health and agriculture, information and communication technologies, software that uses Arabic script, coastal and marine resource management, and water and energy.

The plan also calls for a 'science, technology and innovation observatory' to be set up to monitor Lebanon's scientific progress.

"The plan will boost efforts to link research to Lebanon's basic economic needs and will establish partnerships between the private and the public sectors," says Ahmad Nasri, professor of computer science at the American University of Beirut.

"It also aims to strengthen Lebanon's participation in regional and international networks in science, technology and innovation," he says.

Fouad Mrad, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the same university told SciDev.Net: "We are very excited about the attention that the government has displayed towards the sciences and the scientific community, even if it is late."

The plan will give a major boost to science funding in Lebanon. Speaking at its launch, Mouin Hamze, secretary general of the National Council for Scientific Research, pointed out that under a 1962 law the centre should receive one per cent of Lebanon's GDP for funding research.

This would represent US$200 million a year but according to Hamze, the council gets just a fraction of this amount because of Lebanon's economic problems.