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[CAIRO] A coalition of 132 developing countries known as the 'G77 and China' has approved an action plan that includes a framework for promoting science and technology in the South.

The 'Doha Plan of Action' was approved at the coalition's second South Summit, held in Doha, Qatar on 12-16 June.

The document stresses the need for developing countries to build scientific capacity and close the technological gap between them and industrialised nations.

Achieving this will depend in part on increased scientific cooperation between developing countries, including setting up networks of researchers and institutions, and a G77 consortium on science and technology, says the plan.

The consortium would bring together researchers from the public and private sectors, and government representatives to promote scientific collaboration and to help guide research and development so that it contributes to sustainable development.

The plan urges developing nations to work together on creating vaccines and drugs against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. It adds that member nations should set up coordinated systems to warn of outbreaks of emerging diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and bird flu.

Also included in the plan is a call for member nations to ensure that benefits and intellectual property rights relating to new products derived from indigenous knowledge should be shared between the communities they originate in and those developing the products.

Greater support for science in the South will be sought from developed nations, according to the plan. It calls for such countries to help set up systems to warn of and protect against natural disasters such as last year's tsunami, and urges UNESCO to develop new programmes to support South-South cooperation in science and technology.

"The Doha plan reaffirms developing nations' commitment to boosting science and technology cooperation through a number of high priority initiatives," says Hassan Abdel Aal Moawad, professor of microbial biotechnology at Egypt's National Research Center.

However, Moawad is disappointed that five years after the first G77 South Summit, held in Havana, Cuba in 2000, little progress has been made in South-South science and technology cooperation.

"Most of the [Doha] initiatives were mentioned in previous documents," Moawad told SciDev.Net. "They lack sharply focused action-oriented agenda as well as tools and mechanisms for following up the implementation within specified time frames."

The Doha plan acknowledges that previously agreed actions have not been fully implemented and calls for this situation to be remedied. These include plans agreed at the first South Summit in 2000, the 2002 G77 science conference in the United Arab Emirates, and the 2003 conference on South-South cooperation in Marrakech, Morocco.

At the Doha summit, Qatar pledged US$20 million to set up the South Fund for Development and Humanitarian Aid, which will be used for development projects. China and India also donated US$2 million each. To ensure transparency, the board overseeing the distribution of funds will be made of members from seven of the richer G77 countries that will not need the fund's assistance.

"I hope the fund will help build technological capabilities in developing countries and that by the third South Summit in Africa in 2010, scientific cooperation between Southern countries will be bearing fruit," said Moawad.

More than 5,000 delegates, including 32 heads of state attended the Doha meeting.

Founded in 1964 to promote the collective economic interests of the developing world, the G77 and China constitutes the largest single coalition of developing nations. Its membership grew from 77 to 131 countries, though kept the original name.

Some 80 per cent of the world's population lives in G77 countries, but their combined gross domestic product is only about 40 per cent of global total.

Link to Doha plan of action (in Arabic)

Link to Doha plan of action (in English)