Technical Cooperation in Africa: What Works and How to Improve
In the last 10 years, the IAEA’s support to Africa has led to tangible improvements in human health, water resource management, industrial applications and human resource development. To make the most of the IAEA’s assistance, African countries should strengthen regional cooperation to share knowledge, expertise and facilities and join forces to apply for funding from international partners for follow-up work. This was the conclusion of a panel discussion held today in parallel to the IAEA’s 60th General Conference, with African speakers analysing the results and effectiveness of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme in Africa.
Dazhu Yang, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, highlighted the importance of cooperation among developing countries. “Enhancing the use of regional infrastructure and expertise in Africa contributes to ensuring that Member States maximize the benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear technology for their socioeconomic development.”
Wilfred Mbacham, a public health biotechnology expert from Cameroon and Chair of the AFRA Programme Management Committee, talked of the importance of taking a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach to development for maximum results. “We all know about Africa’s malnutrition challenges,” he said. “But if we talk about nutrition, we talk about health, and if we talk about health, we talk about agriculture. If we talk about agriculture, we talk about water availability. All these issues are interconnected. We can’t look at one in isolation.”
He cited examples in which technical cooperation projects had helped improve nutrition in African countries, such as pest management in Mauritius and the development of drought resistant crop varieties in Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia. He encouraged countries in Africa to come up with integrated approaches to improve nutrition, to focus on locally-grown products and to take the future effects of climate change into account when designing their nutrition programmes.
Radiotherapy is an important treatment for many cancers, either on its own or in combination with other treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy. Remarkable improvements in cancer treatment and greater accuracy in diagnosis and early detection have made it possible for patients to live longer and lead healthier lives. This is not the case in many developing countries, and effective IAEA projects can help.
Max Hove, a Zimbabwean pathologist working on cancer diagnosis, spoke of some successful cases in which courses, experts’ visits and training provided by local institutions with the support of the IAEA had helped build the capacities of cancer care personnel in some countries. “We need to strengthen training facilities and identify new centres of excellence so that trained specialists are able to stay,” he said. “We need to ensure there are guidelines at all times to protect patients and we need to strengthen the professional bodies so that the training given is accredited. We need to bring cancer on board and strengthen the capacity of all countries lagging behind in Africa.”
Water resource management
Water insecurity is a major problem in Africa, especially in arid areas, said Kamel Zouari, a water resource management specialist from Tunisia. “Many people in our region do not have access to clean drinking water,” he said, adding that Tunisia received 30% less rain than usual last year.
Both stable and radioactive isotopes can be used to investigate underground sources of water to determine their source, whether these are at risk of saltwater intrusion or pollution, and whether they can be used in a sustainable manner. During the last decade, the IAEA has helped enhance the capacity of several laboratories in the region with modern analytical equipment and trained staff.
“Thanks to two IAEA regional projects, we managed to train more than 300 professionals in isotope hydrology and water resources. Thirty per cent of these were female, and 80 per cent of the lecturers came from Africa,” Zouari said. To further strengthen the effectiveness of the programmes, more coordination is required between project beneficiaries, to decrease overlaps and increase complementarity.
The use of nuclear technologies for non-destructive testing and irradiation techniques for improving durability of products — such as car tyres, pipelines and medical devices — contribute to increasing industrial competitiveness, panellists agreed.
“We need cutting-edge industrial development if we want to grow as an economy,” said Roelina Andriambololona, nanotechnology and industrial application expert from Madagascar. He cited Chile, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand as examples of countries investing in nanotechnology research and advised decision makers to think long term.
“A country willing to invest in technology needs a strategy and vision,” he said. “Governments should know what sort of development they’re looking for. They need to make sure that the technology they want to develop will meet the needs of the market, and they need to raise awareness among people so that they realize the importance of the technology.”
Human resource development
Between 70 and 80 training courses and meetings take place in Africa every year under AFRA, said Simon Mallam, Commissioner in charge of Planning and Manpower Development at the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission and Chair of the AFRA High Level Steering Committee for Human Resource Development. Experts trained in these sessions helped improve the delivery of IAEA services in numerous areas, he added.
He advocated for the creation of more regional designated centres like the ones in Algeria, Egypt, Ghana and Morocco and for support networks to avoid the flight of talent. “We have enough experts, but we need more of these with the capacity to train,” he said.
Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Africa, closed the session by urging Member States to create an enabling environment for capacity building and knowledge sharing, for transformative leadership and for sustainable and resilient institutions.
We have enough experts, but we need more of these with the capacity to train.