Nairobi, 16 July 2009 - When Wilkista Nyaora Moturi decided to do graduate studies in Kenya in environmental health, she faced a daunting task: how to get access to current information that was scattered across the country or in too many cases not in the country at all? "On my chosen topic of study, there were only a few textbooks published and unfortunately, they were not in this part of the world. Most of the literature available at the University was outdated and of very little help to my studies," she recalls.
What changed her life and her ability to study was Wilkista's discovery of the Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE). It has not only helped her to finish her Master's degree but has made it possible to pursue a doctorate.
"When I decided to take up a PhD, OARE became an indispensible tool. It not only helped me find literature on environmental health, but also allowed me to view how other researchers had structured their projects, allowing me to fine tune my own research plan and apply an appropriate methodology," she recalls. "Moreover, OARE kept me motivated through access to a wealth of information and helped me to remain unbiased in my analyses," she added.
Launched in 2006 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Yale University and 340 publishers and scientific societies, OARE provides access to over 2,500 peer-reviewed journals in over 100 low-income countries.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director,said: "UNEP, by leading this capacity-building initiative, is implementing OARE with one objective in mind: to make access to research in the environment more easily and more effectively accessible to people across the world. It is about sharing knowledge, sharing information in the digital age and about empowering the transformational change so urgently needed to realize a global Green Economy."
OARE responds to UNEP's goal as a science-based organization to reduce the knowledge gap between industrialized countries and the developing world. And having access to this critical information could not have come sooner. The impact of climate change has clearly become global, hitting the developing countries the hardest. Nine out of every ten disasters recorded are now climate related. This is leading to rising temperatures and more frequent floods, droughts and storms which are affecting millions of people's lives, many of them already vulnerable.
"Access to scientific information is at the heart of the process of facing environmental challenges. UNEP trained over 40 researchers and scientists in Sudan last April and has been requested to go back to train other senior researchers in November. "It means that the scientific community in developing countries is eager to learn," said Mohamed Atani, UNEP's Technical Officer for OARE.
OARE is part of a larger digital information initiative called Research4Life, a public-private partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cornell and Yale Universities and over 340 science publishers. Research4Life has launched two other online initiatives since 2002: the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) and Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), which also provide the developing world with access to over 6,000 journals by the leading science publishers.
The number of people using Research4Life is also expanding rapidly. HINARI, which was the first programme to be formed in 2002, has seen registrations rise by 61 per cent since 2006 and researchers at 3,866 not-for-profit institutions in 108 countries now have access to over 6,300 medical and health journals. AGORA, which was established in 2003, has seen registrations increase by 77 percent and OARE's registered users have jumped by nearly 700 percent since 2006.
Today, Wilkista heads up the Environment Studies Department at Egerton University, one of Kenya's seven public universities. She continues to use OARE to access information on the latest information that helps improve the lives of the most vulnerable communities in Kenya. Her students also now benefit from the free access to OARE. "I guide them to the relevant articles and forward to them materials which I deem relevant to their chosen topic of student," she said. In a world of information flow, OARE, HANARI and AGORA make sure those who need it most have access to it.