Science needs strategic direction, says UNESCO chief

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Published on SundayTimes on 21.08.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160821/news/science-needs-strategic-direction-says-unesco-chief-205533.html

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova

“Science holds answers for many of the key questions of sustainability we face today and science needs to be more strategic and tightly connected with national strategies,” UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova, told a forum of about 200 scientists in Colombo.

The event last week was organised by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a dialogue between Sri Lankan scientists and the visiting DG of UNESCO. Ms.Bokova acknowledged the talent of Sri Lankan scientists and invited them to use UNESCO platforms more effectively for their work.

Participating scientists spoke out about barriers to research in this country, saying lack of funds and high-calibre science projects hurt the quality of research in Sri Lanka.

Taking oceanography as an example, Professor Ruchira Kumaratunga, who established the country’s first university Oceanography Department at the University of Ruhuna, said, “The equipment and other services needed to carry out oceanography research is costly. We have buildings, but it is difficult to get these fully equipped with the funds we receive. We also have research vessels, but fuel is costly. Even a diving licence is costly”.

The Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Susil Premajayantha, said the government is to set up a National Science Centre in Colombo to exhibit and celebrate the beauty and wonders of science. Such centres exist in most South Asian countries as well as in the developed world. Ms.Bokova pledged that UNESCO would support the project.

It was essential to attract more talented Sri Lankans to science, Minister Premajayantha said. “You don’t find as many scientists of very high calibre as we had in the past so we have a duty to popularise science, technology and innovation,” he said.

Ms.Bokova also visited three of Sri Lanka’s eight World Heritage Sites, including the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the Sigirya Rock Fortress, and the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. She had to face a barrage of questions relating to the status of the Dambulla Rock Cave Temple, a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Asked whether it would lose its status due to unapproved development work carried out by a local monk, Ms.Bokova said a UNESCO technical team that inspected the site in March 2015 had made a number of recommendations and UNESCO was working with the government in order to improve the conservation and management of the site. At the moment, there are no plans to delist Dambulla, she said.

Ms.Bokova, who met President Maithripala Sirisena and other leaders, said she was “impressed by the strong political will to move forward and go through the reconciliation process”.

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