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INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH CENTRE

Created in 1970 by the Canadian government to help communities in the developing world find solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a unique public corporation headed by an international board of governors. It tries to connect people, institutions, and ideas to ensure that the results of the research it supports, and the knowledge that research generates, are shared among its many partners. The aim of the IDRC is to generate and use knowledge in ways that alleviate poverty and improve people's lives.

IDRC believes that knowledge is the key to lasting and widespread improvements in human well-being, that research is the means to development, and that development takes place when people and communities develop the ability to identify and solve their own problems.

The centre has attracted a renowned group of scientists and researchers and has had an influence in many parts of the developing world. It is focused on six development themes: food security; equity in natural resource use; biodiversity conservation; sustainable employment; strategies and policies for healthy societies; and information and communication.

The IRDC supported work at the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research on banana and plantain improvement for over a decade, starting in 1983, after the banana industry worldwide was threatened with extinction by fungal diseases. Millions of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America faced food shortages as a result of this disease. Research at the foundation has led to the development of Goldfinger, the world's first dessert banana (distinct from the plantain) specially bred to resist pests and diseases. The main beneficiaries of Goldfinger's development are the millions of small growers and consumers throughout the world for whom the new banana promises a reliable food source.

IDRC support has also helped residents of the village of Chungungo, which lies in the shadow of northern Chile's coastal mountains, one of the world's driest regions. Water for the village's 350 residents used to come from a town 50 kilometers away by tanker truck. It was expensive, sometimes contaminated, and the lack of a reliable water source contributed to ill health and low food production in the village.

Scientists knew that for centuries the leaves of trees in the deserts of Oman had trapped water droplets from coastal clouds, and that people collected this water in small tanks. With IDRC support, Canadian and Chilean scientists updated this ancient technology by using a system of seventy-five large nets to collect moisture from the mountain fog above Chungungo. A pipeline now carries this water to the village. The water is clean and the system is inexpensive, easy to install and maintain, and environmentally sound. This simple technology is now being considered for use in thirty countries on six continents.

The IDRC has also focused on malaria, one of history's most debilitating diseases, which is making a comeback in the developing world. About 300 to 500 million people suffer from the disease each year, and more than 1 million die from it. Mosquitoes, which spread the disease, are becoming more resistant to chemical insecticides, which are also expensive and can pose a threat to human health and to the environment.

Researchers in Peru, with assistance from IDRC, have discovered a low-cost, eco-friendly, and surprising weapon in the fight against malaria: coconuts. Plentiful and free, coconuts are used to incubate bacteria used in mosquito control. This bacteria is injected into coconuts, where it feeds on the coconut milk. After several days, the milk is thrown into ponds, where mosquito larvae eat the bacteria and die.

In addition, researchers in Brazil have developed a computer software program that evaluates malaria in municipalities and produces information for prevention and control of the disease; researchers in Bangladesh, Benin, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania are evaluating the effectiveness of bednets treated with insecticides in preventing mosquito bites while people are sleeping; and in Guinea, researchers have studied strains of malaria that are resistant to chloroquine, a common antimalarial drug. All of these efforts are supported by the IRDC.

Janet Hatcher Roberts

(see also: International Development of Public Health; International Nongovernmental Organizations )

Bibliography

Basch, P. F. (1990). Textbook of International Health. New York: Oxford University Press.

International Development Research Centre (2000). Reshaping Health Care in Latin America: A Comparative Analysis of Health Care Reform in Argentina, Brazil, eds.S. Fleury, S. Belmartino, and E. Bris. Ottawa: Author.

Kerr, M. G. (1996). Partnering and Health Development, The Kathmandu Connection. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

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International Development Research Centre