Occasionally I come across references to nanotechnology and its possible impact on emerging and developing countries such as this news item on Nanowerk,
… OECD and UNITAR organised workshops in each of the UN Regions to undertake awareness raising and other related activities in developing countries regarding the potential risks from nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials (e.g. to the environment or human health) and benefits (e.g. decreased costs of low-maintenance products, or use in environmental remediation) of nanotechnology and nanomaterials.
These workshops brief participants on what is nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials, what are some of the potential risks from nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials (e.g. to the environment or human health) and benefits (e.g. decreased costs of low-maintenance products, or use in environmental remediation) of nanotechnology and nanomaterials. It also considered some of the posible implications for developing and transition countries as nano-based or nano-containing products are traded across borders, into jurisdictions where there is little or no capacity to address them. These workshops were organised in conjunction with SAICM Regional Meetings, within the framework of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC). The workshops were held as follows:
Asia-Pacific Region: 27 November 2009, in Beijing, China
Central and Eastern Europe Region: 11 December 2009, in Lodz, Poland
Africa Region: 25-26 January 2010, in Abidjan, Cote d’lvoire
Latin America – Caribbean Region: 12 March 2010, in Kingston, Jamaica
Arab Sub-Region: 11-13 April 2010, in Alexandria, Egypt
… In addition to the awareness-raising workshops, UNITAR and OECD are looking at opportunities for assisting developing and transition countries to develop programmatic capacities to address nano issues at the national level. Some countries will undertake pilot projects aimed to develop and/or strengthen capacities to address Nanotechnology and Manufactured Nanomaterials within their national frameworks. These projects, which are provided with funding support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), will generate experiences and lessons learned that will be transmitted for deliberation at the third International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM3), to be held in mid-2012.
The question isn’t only being asked by the OECD and other international organizations. In a recent Ask a Nobel Laureate series on the Nobel Organization’s YouTube channel, a young woman from Bangalore asks Nobel Laureate Albert Fert the question, How could nanotechnology be used in the developing world,
Unfortunately, I can’t include the answer but you can go here if you’re curious. Fert suggests strongly that nanotechnology not be viewed as separate from other sciences but (I’m extemporizing here) as a logical direction for the sciences we practice. He goes on to note that developing should focus on science generally and that nanotechnology might be the most difficult for developing countries to establish as the costs are very high.
Ineke Malsch at The Broker asks in her June 1, 2010 posting,
How can we ensure that poor people in the least developed countries really benefit from the current big investments in nanoscience and nanotechnology in the world? For example, the shortage of clean potable water has many victims in developing countries each year. Will the solutions to be developed in Dutch nanotechnology and water research centres over the coming years be suitable for use in tropical conditions, or places without much infrastructure? Not necessarily. Even in water-rich and wealthy countries like the Netherlands, future shortages of clean and drinkable water are looming. Researchers and the utility companies responsible for our water supply may give preference to nanotechnology applications that only work if they are incorporated into the existing infrastructure for sewage treatment or the purification of surface or ground water.
Early cooperation with nanoscientists in developing countries, who are also working on water purification, may contribute to solutions that are also useful in remote areas of the least developed countries. Hopefully, initiatives like the recent series of webinars on nanotechnology for water purification, which involved speakers from South Africa and Europe, will turn out to be steps in the right direction.
You may want to check out Ineke Malsch as she does post regularly on these issues.
From what I can tell basic needs must be met first and clean water (mentioned in Malsch’s posting) certainly comes under that category. What we need to do is to ensure clean water through the most practical and least harmful means for the greatest number of people. Some of the work being done in this area suggests that nano-enabled technologies may be the best means for achieving that goal. Personally, I don’t care which technology is used to that end.