The 13 million people living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, sit on an "earthquake bomb," says seismologist Syed Humayun Akhter of the University of Dhaka. But as recently as a decade ago, he notes, there was not a single seismologist in the country.
That yawning talent gap is slowly closing, thanks in part to a new grants program by two U.S. agencies aimed at improving the scientific infrastructure of developing nations. Akhter is one of the first beneficiaries of the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), a joint initiative between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). He is using $30,000 from USAID to establish a seismology and geology center at the University of Dhaka that will archive, process, and analyze seismic data collected in an NSF-funded project involving Michael Steckler from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, that is researching the geology and geohazards of the Bengal Basin. "This is only possible because of grants from USAID. It was really a blessing for us," Akhter says.
Akhter and Steckler's collaboration is just one of six pilot projects to have received funding from PEER. A total of $150,000 has been awarded since January to scientists in Bangladesh, Tanzania, Mali, Kenya, and Burkina Faso who are working with NSF grantees on topics such as climate change, seismology, biodiversity, and hydrology.
"This is a win-win partnership," said NSF Director Subra Suresh speaking yesterday as the host for the program's launch. "The U.S. scientific community benefits from more robust international partnerships and an increased awareness of how research can be used to address global development challenges. Our foreign partners benefit from the expertise and enthusiasm of the U.S. scientific community, the engagement of U.S. universities, and an understanding that science can build bridges."