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Editorial (September 2011)

5 million people have been affected by flooding in Pakistan (© Abdul Majeed Goray/IRIN)
5 million people have been affected by flooding in Pakistan
© Abdul Majeed Goray/IRIN

In 2010, floods in Pakistan affected up to 20 million people, many of whom are still living in camps. Earlier this year, the UN warned that insufficient resources and plans were in place to avoid a repeat of last year's tragedy, but as monsoon rains hit the country, already five million people have been affected, with many more likely to suffer.

Such tragic circumstances illustrate a truth clearly made by Bob Watson, UK Chief Scientific Adviser, at the recent Africa College conference on achieving greater impact from research. Whether preparing for natural disasters or seeking to improve health or food security, our challenge is, as he says, not lack of knowledge, but using the scientific knowledge we have to address the challenges we face. Other conference delegates share ideas on increasing the impact of research in Points of view.

In My perspective, Simon Levine of ODI makes a similar point when he suggests that the ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa was entirely preventable. "Even though lessons about how to prevent famines have been documented time and time again, we don't learn." He warns of looking for short-term technical fixes when the problems we face are often deeper and more political. He also points out that early warning systems are not doing their job if they don't trigger early action.

Paul Gilding's The Great Disruption, reviewed in Books, highlights how climate change and the economic crisis, if not resolved, will lead to major social change and the possible destruction of society. One group already facing that threat are the Raika pastoralists of India, whose dignified struggle to maintain their culture and livelihoods is documented In pictures. Gilding is optimistic that eventually governments and decision-makers will initiate the radical changes required for mankind to live in a post-consumerist world. We can hope he's right, but how many unique cultures and ways of life may be lost before that happens?

Tree cultivation offers multiple benefits (© Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF)
Tree cultivation offers multiple benefits
© Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF

Despite the disheartening trends, New Agriculturist continues to concentrate on the positive initiatives that are making a difference. Focus on examines the multiple benefits offered by tree cultivation, including protection of land, soil and water resources, food for people and livestock and provision of essential environmental services. Support for more effective projects and policies in agroforestry and forestry are discussed, and Developments highlights policies that are supporting East Africa's livestock sector and the recovery of degraded land in the Sahel.

All of these stories provide ample evidence of what science can teach us. The challenge is what we do with that knowledge to bring about the changes that are required. We can share information and experiences, discuss problems and propose solutions, but if we are to really help millions at risk from food insecurity and natural disasters, such words must lead to action.

Date published: September 2011


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