As a nonscientist in a room filled with Ph.D.s, I am more than a little humbled by this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts. Let begin with some personal memories.
In 1979 I had the privilege of attending the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology in Vienna. Notre Dame President Ted Hesberg led a United States delegation, that spent weeks in debate over the role of technology in development and North-South scientific cooperation. In spite of our best efforts, the conference foundered over differences between developing and developed countries. The issue was access to technology, access to information. Failure to resolve questions of law and procedure patent law, telecommunications policy, intellectual property effectively stalemated meaningful progress on North-South cooperation.
We have come a long way in the intervening 17 years. Technology increasingly has come to define the global political economy. It has helped redefine our notions of national power. There are still differences between North and South, but the great ideological debates that once divided us are no longer a significant obstacle.
The pace of change and the rate of diffusion in technology is stunning. Just look at what is going on around the world. Joint ventures are being formed between American and Latin American companies to "bio prospect" in the rain forests of the world for potentially valuable pharmaceutical products and to protect those forests in the process.
Computer programmers in Bangalore, India, are working through the night to get software ordered at the close of business online by the next business day in New York. The market potential for such services in developing countries will soon reach $120 billion, according to a recent World Bank estimate.
Advanced battery technology developed in the United States and exported under USAID's Asia Environmental Partnership is being put to work to clean up Bangkok's air through the introduction of electric scooters and three-wheel taxis.
At this very moment, thousands of people from all over the world are "surfing the net," accessing information and sharing data in the cyberspace we call the Internet. Some of them focused on innovative ways to meet the challenges of sustainable development, and USAID is very much online. The list goes on. The global economy is being knit together today in a way and at a pace that was unthinkable 17 years ago.
USAID is proud to have been a leader in technology cooperation between developing and industrial economies. We have helped to eradicate polio from the Western Hemisphere. We hope that with continued work, polio will join smallpox as the second disease to be rendered functionally extinct, saving the American people the $300 million annually we spend on immunizations.
Our work with the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh pioneered the use of Oral Rehydration Therapy as a usable and cost-effective treatment for the dehydration that was once the world's primary killer of children. Our support of vitamin A supplementation, of improved vaccines, maternal health, and infant nutrition have reduced child mortality by 10 percent in the countries in which we work and as much as 50 percent in places like Egypt.
We have been in the forefront of every advance in family planning, expanding the choices available and helping to meet the unmet needs of more than 100 million people worldwide. We helped President Carter lead the fight against Guinea Worm, a dreadful parasite that prevented tens of thousands of people in Africa from working. Once commonplace, the Guinea Worm is now close to being eradicated.
In places like Bangladesh and the Horn of Africa, we have established satellite and ground- based early warning systems against natural disasters. These systems observe weather patterns and the impact on agriculture and markets. They enable poor nations to avoid famine, keep people from leaving their homes in search of food, and enable relief efforts to be better targeted.
We have been a major funder of a worldwide network of agricultural research institutes. Results at one of those, the International Rice Research Institute, created high-yield rice that is adding $30 billion every year to the economies of Asia. We have aided in the development of sorghum and millet that are resistant to weeds, a critical consideration in Africa where these crops predominate. We are doing research on the new agricultural technologies that will enable us to overcome drought and pest infestations.
What are the challenges that lie before us? As we rush into the 21st century, we face a daunting new set of truly global problems biodiversity loss, global climate change, population growth, and infectious diseases. Our understanding of these phenomena remains poor, but we know they will have profound impacts on our lives and livelihoods. Developing countries play a central role in all of these challenges. They are increasingly the key contributors, as well as the most unfortunate victims.
For example: developing countries are truly on the anvil of global environmental change. They soon will be the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. And the resulting climate change will take a heavy toll on their crowded coastal areas and already fragile agricultural systems. The extraordinary biological wealth of these countries is threatened by poorly planned development which undercuts the natural capital they and we need for the future. We need to invest if we are to develop the science to understand these problems better. We need to work with developing countries to adapt technologies appropriately to combat environmental degradation.
USAID is focusing increasingly on such technological challenges. We are supporting the development of renewable energy technologies which will help meet the growing energy needs of developing countries while avoiding the environmental impact of conventional energy systems.
We are field testing a cheap and accessible means to purify water with ultraviolet light, a process many times more energy efficient than boiling water. Last year over four million children died due to poor quality drinking water.
Through our Global Energy and Environment Network, we are helping developing countries gain access to the information superhighway. We are assisting developing countries to acquire the hardware and human "software" they need to employ modern communications technology to aid in solving technical problems.
Emerging diseases such as AIDS, hantavirus, dengue, and yellow fever represent another compelling challenge. These are not simply medical phenomena they are development phenomena. They take root in areas where development has gone awry: In the stagnant pools of clear-cut rain forests, in jerry-built urban areas that lack sanitation services, and in remote regions where medical care is rudimentary or unknown.
Twenty years ago HIV was an obscure family of African viruses. Today AIDS threatens millions of people in Africa, Asia, and of course, in the United States. If AIDS is a paradigm of what the future might hold, it is a sobering one indeed; it targets the very people adolescents, young adults, and city dwellers who are critical to the development process. We believe that our efforts can help contain this disease and enhance the ability of developing nations to confront other infectious threats that may emerge. USAID is developing and fielding cheap and reliable diagnostic tools for detecting AIDS and other diseases at a fraction of the cost of current laboratory technology.
Tumult in the developing world is not someone else's problem. It is ours all of us. Every industrial nation will pay the price if nations fail, if people starve, if entire regions are swept by plague, and if billions of people are unable to lift themselves from poverty. Our children will pay the price not only in purely humanitarian terms, but in lost markets and exports that never materialize for lack of customers and capital. They will suffer the effects of unchecked biodiversity loss, global climate change, infectious disease, and other environmental and health threats that easily cross borders.
Sustainable development must occupy a prominent place in our diplomacy. No foreign policy can succeed if it fails to treat the conditions that contribute to instability. To support global development efforts, America must maintain its leadership role. Our country must make the critical investments in new technology and in the institutional capacity to deliver development to treat the conditions that create chaos.
The ideological posturing that doomed the 1979 Vienna Conference is behind us. With the end of the Cold War has come a new pragmatism and a real opportunity to share knowledge and experience. At international conferences from Rio to Cairo to Copenhagen, it is increasingly clear that we have unprecedented opportunities to build lasting partnerships for common development. Just as we are able to imagine this vast potential, some in Congress today would have America turn inward and turn away from engagement in the world.
During the Carter Administration our government released a report called Global 2000 that instigated a national debate. The report made some dire predictions about what the world would look like by the year 2000 if governments did not intervene.
People took sides in that debate: They were either optimists or pessimists. The optimists opposed government action. They argued that people would use their ingenuity to correct the problems, perhaps through a process of natural selection. The pessimists believed that both people and governments needed to begin now to attack these issues and that scenarios of coming anarchies (as they have been called more recently) would mobilize people to action.
The optimists challenged the methodology used in Global 2000, and they called its predictions a doomsday message. Whether you were an optimist or an pessimist back in 1979, I suggest you read that report today. Fourteen years later it is instructive. It talks of destroyed topsoil, the problems of urbanization, and the loss of biodiversity. It talks of new drug-resistant diseases, greenhouse gases, and ozone depletion. It does not use the term "failed state," but it describes in detail the prospect that nations would utterly fail under the pressures.
Perhaps it is my age, but I am on to these so-called optimists. They were wrong then and they are wrong today. I am not even sure that their optimism about the future is consistent, because they seem to become terribly pessimistic pretty fast when contemplating a possible military threat. They would spare no expense to develop new weapons technology, but they do not want to invest to avoid the threats that can be treated with development technology.
If we listen to them again in 1995, what will the world look like 14 years from now? It is time for people of common sense to come to the aid of their nation and their planet. The budget cuts now being contemplated on Capitol Hill will not enable our nation to respond to its own needs.
I do not call what I am hearing on Capitol Hill optimism: I call it neglect. I call it penny wise and pound foolish. I call it very risky business. In the years ahead both national leaders and local communities in the developing world will have to make informed decisions on biodiversity, pollution, public health, natural resource use, and so many more issues. We can help them meet these challenges. Indeed, in our own self-interest we must.
Why? Because we in America our children and our children's children will unquestionably be affected by these trends. Their quality of life in the next century will be determined in large measure by how we meet the global challenges of today. If we fail to provide leadership, if we turn our backs on the opportunity to make a difference in that future, we will be held accountable by future generations.
Science and technology give us the tools to meet the challenges of tomorrow, and it gives us something more. It provides a rational basis for hope. This is neither wistful optimism nor cynical pessimism. It is a hard-headed realism that should oblige our continued commitment and our continued investment. Thank you.