Development: The nano-gap

According to a new dossier from the UN there’s an urgent need for regulations and transparency about nano-technology. Nowadays, hundreds of products with uncontrolled nano-parts have been commercialized.
Despite numerous safety-hazardwarnings for the environment and health, no national government has thus far come up with any regulations about nano-technology. In the dossier, the UN pointed out that the lack of an overview perspective and of regulations for this relatively new technology can lead to monopolies, with consequences for especially the South.
The possibilities of nano-technology – aimed at particles just larger than atoms, but smaller than molecules – are infinite, claims its supporters. ‘Instead of planting a tree and chopping it to make a table, soon we will be able to directly plant the table’, says scientist Rodney Brooks.
More importantly: nano-technology offers great opportunities for the Millenniumgoals. According to enthusiastic scientists, there are a lot of opportunities in the field of medicine, healthcare, water purification and cheap energy. ‘Unfortunately this is only the case in an ideal world’, is what action groups claim. ‘The reality is different.’ New nano-composed materials would make thee, coffee, fruit and raw materials like copper, rubber, and platinum less important. And that would mean a threat for the economies of the suppliers of raw materials in the South.
Authorities in the European Union, Asia and the United States are already investing enormous amounts of money in research programs for nano-technology. And these aren’t exactly focusing on social sciences. In 2006, the American department of Defense for instance received the most research funds for nano-research of all governmental departments. The South as well is investing in research – at least in transition countries such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey. Except for Sout-Africa, the African countries are left behind. Botswana is the only African country where – for lack of government support – private research programs have been started up.
The power of nano-technology is already, by large, concentrated in the hands of a couple of big players. They play a very tough game: through patens and intellectual ownershipsrights. In 2003, 8630 patents for nano-technology were handed out in the US, which is an rise of 50% compared to 2000. In comparison: for the larger technology field, patens only rose with 4%. For researchers in the South, this trade in patents already poses a threshold to keep up. They face limited access because they first have to pass by the Western patent offices.

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