World Science Forum holds first Mideast conference in Jordan

Gathering focuses on food security, water and energy, which participants say could pave path to regional peace

Jordan's King Abdullah II (l) presents achievement awards at the opening of the World Science Forum in Jordan, November 7, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Jordan's King Abdullah II (l) presents achievement awards at the opening of the World Science Forum in Jordan, November 7, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

DEAD SEA, Jordan (AP) — The king of Jordan and the president of Hungary on Tuesday opened the World Science Forum, a biennial gathering of scientists and policy makers from around the world that is being held for the first time in the Middle East.

Participants said science could pave a path to peace in the conflict-scarred region.

“It is no accident that this year’s forum focuses on the issues of food security, water and energy,” said Hungarian President János Áder. “All three of these areas are fundamental to security. A series of historical examples proves that shortages of food and water also threaten social harmony.”

During the opening session, a robot shaped like a person rolled onstage, holding hands with a physicist. The robot greeted the audience, saying it had come from Japan and would now be based in Jordan.

The opening ceremony of the World Science Forum in Jordan, November 7, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II presented achievement awards to 14 Jordanians in different fields, including medicine, physics, mathematics and architecture.

The four-day conference, held on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea, drew 3,000 participants. The World Science Forum was launched in Hungary in 2003.

“Having grown up on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain, science provided my first window to the world,” said László Lovász, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. International scientific conferences then and now combat artificial divisions of the world even amid political conflict, he said.

Speakers called for regional and global scientific cooperation, especially on water, energy and food security, problems that are felt acutely in the Middle East.

Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world and over the decades has given refuge to large numbers of Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians.

Prince Hassan, a brother of Jordan’s late King Hussein, said Jordan and its neighbors have often experienced science as an agent of war.

“As we see drones fired from thousands of kilometers away to destroy people in this region, we wonder whether computers have already replaced humans in this part of the world,” he said, adding that building peace is more expensive than waging war, because it requires a long-term vision without short-term benefits.

“Waiting and hoping for peace in the region must not be an excuse for not doing what we should be doing to improve the welfare of citizens in this region, the Levant,” he added.

Science and technology education are also key to building societies that don’t fall prey to a victim mentality or to extremist narratives, said theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

“The absence of science leaves a gap that is easily filled by demagogues who fill young peoples’ minds with dangerous ideas, superstition, ideology and hatred,” Kaku said. “Instead of trying to blow up airplanes, why don’t we make airplanes?”

The conference will include sessions on refugee scientists, artificial intelligence, global pandemics, science diplomacy, security and agriculture, and the promotion of Arab women in science.

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