One-fifth of the world's population lacks safe drinking water, the United Nations said in a report last week that laid much of the blame on mismanagement of resources.
"Farmers are central to the whole picture," Patrick McCully, director of International River Network, a non-governmental organization, said at the [World Water Forum]. "They use the majority of the world's water, and farmers are where most of the world's poverty is concentrated."
Advanced nanotechnology can aid in making much more efficient use of water, especially in agriculture, and especially in developing countries.
With 525 million small farms in the world -- and 2.5 billion people living off the land -- farmers suffer the most from the problems discussed at the forum: poverty, disease, and the lack of sanitation and clean water.
Drought-parched fields, withered corn stalks and skinny cattle make up the face of the crisis in the developing world.
It is not hyperbole to say that nanotechnology could bring an end to poverty, malnutrition, and starvation. The technology will be available.
Traditionally governments have responded to the problems of small farmers -- defined as those with plots of 5 acres or less -- with big dam projects. But most small farms are so high up in the hills or removed from rivers that they cannot benefit from them, said McCully.
The answer is more efficient irrigation systems, said Ute Collier, of the World Wildlife Fund. "We can't afford to waste water in irrigation systems that are 30 to 40 percent efficient," he said. "If we could get that part of the equation done, we could probably cut down the number of dams we're building by half, at least."
Greater efficiency would free up money to help provide clean drinking water and food to small farmers who, despite raising food, constitute most of the 842 million people in the world who go hungry.
Molecular manufacturing will provide inexpensive, onsite, custom design and building of:
- Pumps, pipes, and irrigation systems
- Filters and desalination equipment
- Greenhouses and solar power collectors
- Automation for planting, tilling, fertilizing, weeding, pest control, harvesting, sorting, and packaging
- Storage and distribution solutions
Some will say that we already have sufficient technology to adequately feed all the world's people, and that the actual problems are political. That's mostly true, but it is also true that improved technology could make a big difference.
Supplying technological aid to a poor country today is often a major logistical challenge as well as being quite expensive. Developed nations are simply not willing to spend enough money to make the growing of food equally easy for everyone. It won't sell politically at home -- never mind the problematic governments overseas.
Molecular manufacturing will overcome many of these barriers. Major shipments of expensive equipment no longer will be required. An aid worker with a tiny nanofactory in her pocket could simply walk into a village and then go to work. Costs will be negligible, especially when compared to the enormously greater productivity that developed nations could achieve through advanced nanotech and other emerging technologies.
Yes, the corrupt leadership in many poor nations still could make things difficult. But when the economic and security advantages of raising others out of poverty are considered (not to mention the moral imperatives), and when it costs nearly nothing to do so, it will make inaction a much harder sell.