Afghan academy appeals for help in reviving science

Afghanistan needs help to revive its war-ravaged science sector, say experts Copyright: Afghan science academy

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[NEW DELHI] The Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan (ASA) has appealed to the international scientific community to help it rehabilitate the country's science sector, battered by three decades of devastating violence and war.

"After three decades of conflict, there is nothing," Ghulam Najamuddin Tarin, ASA's president, told SciDev.Net, at the sidelines of a summit of South Asian science academies — the first such meeting in the region — held in New Delhi this week (6–9 September).

Tarin and his colleagues Mirwaiz Haqmal and Ahmed Shah Omar, director of Afghanistan's medical research centre, made a special appeal to the international community to help the country meet its wide-ranging science needs.

Before conflict in Afghanistan began [with the Soviet invasion of 1979] Afghanistan had 48 research laboratories engaged in agricultural, biological, chemical, geological, social, physical and medical sciences, they said.

These research institutes have since been destroyed by persistent conflict and instability. In 2002, for example, SciDev.Net reported that Afghanistan's largest seed collection was destroyed.

In 2011, ASA managed to rebuild its own partially destroyed building, but, overall, the science sector lacks adequate infrastructure, laboratories, equipment and libraries, Tarin said.

Afghanistan has around 250 scientists, but most — 220 — hold only a bachelor's degree. Around ten have a post-graduate degree, and no more than ten have PhDs, according to Tarin.

"We need to build scholars' capacity through fellowships," he said. However, he added that a major constraint is the age bar for international science fellowships, which is usually 30 years for Master's enrollment and 35 for PhDs. Most Afghan scientists exceed these age brackets, due to education being regularly interrupted by war and political instability.     

Access to journals and scientific literature is also poor, and ASA has appealed to international science academies to include it in library networks, so that scientists' access can improve.

Tarin made his appeal at a meeting attended by science academy heads from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — as well as from the African Academy of Sciences.  

Today, ASA held preliminary talks with the Indian National Science Academy to discuss how the two academies could work together.

"They [Afghanistan's scientists] should certainly be helped in their efforts to rebuild their scientific sector," said Krishan Lal, INSA's president.

The two academies had taken the first step towards drafting a formal memorandum of understanding (MoU) to pave the way towards formal scientific collaboration, Lal explained.

The Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS) is also working on a possible collaboration with ASA, Atta-ur-Rahman, president of PAS, told SciDev.Net.