Lack of engineers stifling development, says report

The world needs more women engineers and technicians Copyright: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia

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A shortage of engineers in developing countries, and lack of interest in engineering careers from young people and women, are hampering development, according to the first ever international report on engineering.  

Engineering is vital for raising standards of living and creating opportunities for sustainable prosperity in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to the report, which features contributions from 120 experts around the world.

But developing countries on average have only five engineers per 10,000 of the population — and less than one in some African countries — according to UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which published the report. Developed countries have 20–50 engineers per 10,000.

The poorest are hit hardest by the lack of engineers: 1.1 billion people have no access to clean water, 2 billion have no access to electricity and 800 million go hungry on a daily basis.

"The crucial thing is to address people's basic needs: water supply, sanitation, better homes," Tony Marjoram, editor of the report and head of engineering sciences at UNESCO, told SciDev.Net. Around 2.5 million new engineers are needed only in Sub-Saharan Africa just to ensure provision of clean water and sanitation for everyone, says the report.

Developing countries bear the brunt of climate change, so ensuring sustainable development is also important, he said.

"Engineering is often blamed for pollution but it can create solutions to reduce carbon emissions and make energy use more effective," Marjoram said.

The report calls for developing public and policy awareness of engineering as a key driver of innovation and social and economic development. It also highlights the need to focus educational efforts on the need for more effective application of engineering to sustainable development, poverty reduction and climate change.

Only one country in Sub-Saharan Africa has an engineering academy, the report says. It also makes a link between lagging economic development in Latin America and its lack of engineers.

Pacific islands where cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes pose a risk to people have an unsustainable and ageing engineer workforce, overly reliant on foreign aid, it says.

"The report makes clear that investing in infrastructure and the education of engineers in developing countries will be hugely important to development," Andrew Lamb, chief executive of the non-profit organisation Engineers without Borders, told SciDev.Net. The shortage of engineers in developing countries is exacerbated by a brain drain, Lamb added.

Women are often the ones to experience problems that can be solved with engineering, Jan Peters, executive president of the UK-based Women's Engineering Society told SciDev.Net. "If women are given the skills to solve the problems they have in their lives, the lives of their families will improve enormously."

The report, 'Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development', was presented at the opening ceremony of the World Congress and Exhibition, Engineering 2010 — Argentina: Technology, Innovation and Production for Sustainable Development, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last month (17 October).

Link to full 'Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development' report [10.3MB]