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The UK government's overseas aid agency has pledged to double its funding for science and technology research by 2010, with a focus on achieving progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals.

In particular, the Department for International Development will commit more funding for research into better drugs for diseases common in poor countries and new technologies for water treatment, agriculture and adapting to climate change.

The plans were announced yesterday (13 July) in a 'white paper' that sets out the United Kingdom's plans for international development aid, reflecting on the promises made at last year’s G8 summit meeting in Gleneagles.

The report makes clear the country's commitment to using science to fight poverty, saying that: "managing global challenges requires investment in science, technological advances and innovation."

"Developing country governments need access to international expertise. And with the right networks, scientists in developing countries can encourage governments to use their skills to help the poorest people," says the report, adding that the media have a role in promoting partnerships that exploit science in the fight against poverty.

"This is an important statement," says George Rothschild, a member of the UK Forum for Agricultural Research for Development. "The report states up front that science can change lives."

The report also called for radical action on climate change, which it warned could have a devastating effect on African agriculture. "If we do not act urgently, the threat posed by climate change will derail development," it says.

Corruption and good governance were key themes throughout the report, which acknowledged the role of local media in promoting better decision-making.

The white paper announced a new £100 million (US$183.5 million) Governance and Transparency Fund to assess the quality of governance and guide the distribution of UK development aid, and pledged to increase aid to 0.7 per cent of the country's gross domestic product by 2013.

Julia Higgins, vice president of the Royal Society — the UK science academy — said in a statement that increased funding would give a welcome boost to research on health, water and climate change in developing nations.

But she said it was not clear whether the funds would "be used to assist developing countries in building up their own expertise so that they can develop their own 'homegrown' solutions to the many challenges they face".