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Geological capacity building in developing countries is "piecemeal" because of the way funding is organised through multilateral agencies, according to a geology expert.

John Ludden, executive director of the British Geological Survey (BGS), made the comment at the conference of the Geological Society of London in London, United Kingdom, this week (12 September).

A number of developed countries have national organisations, like the BGS, that help build geological capacity in developing countries. BGS is currently involved in projects in 14 nations.

Projects focus on improving and modernising geoscience infrastructure and providing "modern, digital, and credible geoscience information" to aid sustainable development, said Ludden.

Activities include training scientists, remapping countries' natural resources — such as water and minerals — with geophysics and satellite imaging, and creating digital geoinformation databases. Such information is helpful for developing countries to manage, maintain and conserve their resources.   

The British government used to fund the BGS directly for this work, but most of the money now comes from multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank.

Funding for such sustainable development projects is often delivered in 3–4 year blocks. "This is not a good way of doing sustainable development," said Ludden. After 3–4 years "you leave the databases, you leave the labs and go home".

Ludden said scientists trained by BGS are often recruited by mineral and mining companies for much better wages than those paid by the country's government, and there is no way of guaranteeing long-term maintenance of resources. For example, laboratory equipment may not be looked after, and degrades or is sometimes stolen.

He added that funding from the World Bank also often neglects projects to help manage a country’s most important natural resource: water.

"World Bank projects focus on economic growth from natural resources," said Ludden. "Potable [safe drinking] water is often overlooked or taken as a given."

"The BGS is doing excellent work," he said. "But Britain has lost control of how it delivers its aid because its aid goes through the World Bank."

He added that because of having to bid for funds through the competitive World Bank process, BGS is often uncertain as to whether it can remain involved in projects it starts up.

Ludden said he'd like to see the equivalent of a geological Red Cross or 'Geologie Sans Frontiere' to ensure that the international geology community can better sustain their capacity building projects.