By: Hadeel Atallah
Scientific research at Al-Azhar University
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
Days and years are passing and the political as well as the economic crisis in Gaza is still the same, on some levels and in many fields it has even worsened.
The hope is vanishing for all those graduate students and researchers and they can't even dream of a light at the end of the tunnel.
It is taking forever and it doesn’t seem like the Israeli siege is coming to an end. And resulting from that is the scarcity of funding needed to conduct scientific research.
In Gaza, the "spot" of the world which Israel has no mercy on and the international community refuses to help, a Gazan science student is obliged to cover the costs of a decent research from his own money and this researcher may not even have a source of income. Even if he was able to complete his research, the elements of his steadfastness in the field of scientific research, no matter how inimitable it seemed, are almost non-existent.
Nevertheless, hard-fought attempts continue to challenge the hard conditions experienced by the residents of the Strip, even when the capabilities are at the minimum level among some researchers and academic institutions.
Research under the Humanities Sciences Umbrella
"Many vital sectors in Gaza have collapsed as they were supposed to be subject to scientific research in order to solve primitive problems that the world overcame years ago."
This is how, Dr. Azzam Abu Habib, started his speech. Dr. Abu Habib works as a lecturer in the Ph.D. program "Joint Water Technology" between the Islamic and Al-Azhar Universities.
The years of the siege were a brutal punishment that cannot be described, and its consequences were specifically - according to Abu Habib's opinion - is the absence of funding, and the weak contact with the outside world, i.e., between students, researchers and professors of local universities on the one hand and their counterparts in the world on the other hand.
Whereas in the pre-siege era - before 2007 - postgraduate programs were limited to master's degrees. "Those programs -that are the main tributary of scientific research-were limited, as were their students," says Abu Habib.
And when asked about the long bitter 15 years, he said: "With weak capabilities, funding, researchers, especially in the field of applied sciences, we had to convert towards research that did not require laboratories or conducting experiments in general. This weakened the scientific research and put it under the umbrella of human sciences in terms of methodologies and research tools.
Dr. Abu Habib pointed out that the majority of research centers are currently moving towards surveys, polls and questionnaires. Most of which are far from the fields of experimental scientific research.
And according to Dr. Abu Habib many university professors tend to look for a source of income from private and advisory work far from their work at the universities due to the ongoing financial hardship. This negatively affected the students in terms of proper guidance and which affected the quality of their research.
There is no doubt that water is one of the most prominent problems that Gazans face, and therefore needs major solutions. Some internationally funded researches are at a good level of quality, still according to Dr. Abu Habib: “the amount of research is still minimal compared to the needs of the society, while researchers are unable to stop the significant deterioration in the water sector, due to the blockade obstructing the implementation of their ideas.”
He added, "A lot of ideas that can be financed in the field of water desalination are proposed and are based on modern technology, but the problem is getting the approval to allow the equipment needed in Gaza."
Dr. Abu Habib feels sorry for the collapse in scientific research which in his opinion must be addressed to end the severe economic crisis in universities, and to work according to a clear strategy in the education sector.
Abu Habib does not seem optimistic about the situation in general, he expresses his feeling: "The culture of scientific research has become distorted, and the vision of graduate students is blocked. No support at the local level, and in most cases, it is nothing more than a story in the media about a prize winner for a short period."
Not that bad but...
There has been a decline in scientific research on different levels during the years of the siege. Professor Dr. Fadel Al-Sharif, a genetics specialist, explains that in a number of ways. He started by saying that the deteriorating economic situation in Gaza made it difficult for researchers to provide the costs of chemicals needed to conduct research and scientific experiments.
Al-Sharif, who teaches at the Islamic University, believes that the repeated closures of the crossings have raised the cost of these materials tremendously, and delayed their arrival for several months. Moreover, he explained: "Under the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, there are some chemicals that are prohibited from entering the Strip under the pretext that they will be misused in some non-peaceful way."
According to Al Sharif, one main obstacle that scientific research faced in the past years was the lack of some modern medical devices and equipment due to their high cost, in addition to the inability to operate some complex devices, because researchers cannot travel abroad to receive the essential training courses to operate them.
Afterall, it is a sad story that adds up to a series of sad stories resulting from the siege on Gaza. He adds: “In addition to all that had been mentioned, some devices stopped working due to the lack of spare parts or important chemicals to operate them."
Dr. Al-Sharif worries about the fact that researchers are deprived the right to freedom of movement, which prevents their participation in scientific conferences outside the country and their constructive communication with scholars and researchers from their own fields.
He also expresses his worry towards the lack of a budget for scientific research by the Palestinian government, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, as well as by universities and the private sector.
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh