New and emerging technologies such as nanotechnology can offer huge
benefits in poverty alleviation. The challenges lie in taking these
technologies from the laboratory to the bottom of the pyramid (BoP).
This study was conducted to understand what prevents these technologies
from benefiting the masses especially with respect to providing access
to safe drinking water. Phase 1 of the study adopted a two-pronged
approach of desk research and stakeholder consultations to identify the
barriers and explore approaches that can mitigate them.
During the study, it was found that nanotechnology has made huge strides
in providing solutions for safe drinking water. However the widespread
roll out of these solutions especially to the BoP is impeded by a few
barriers. Key among them is the lack of awareness among the target
group; first, on the status of their water resources and its health
impacts, and second on effective ways to address this issue. The study
found that nanotechnology research benefits can reach the BoP, through
innovative and appropriate delivery models. Though the scientific
community is divided about the perceived risks of nanotechnology, they
are unanimous in stating that mankind should reap the benefits of
nanotechnology research provided risks are managed through precautionary
and pro-active policy to practice connect. Therefore, in Phase 2 of this
research the focus would be to pilot these approaches and test their
scalability potential. The learnings from the ground will feed into
developing a regulatory framework complemented by a set of exemplary
package of practices for risk management.
The report is structured into four themes. The first theme reflects on
the potential nanotechnology has to offer to water purification, keeping
a focus on the BoP populations. There is a vast amount of research being
carried out in India and abroad on the application of various
nanomaterials including metal oxides, noble metals, magnetic particles,
carbon nanotubes etc. for water purification. A few technologies
harnessing the antimicrobial properties of silver nanoparticles have
also been marketed in India, catering to both the BoP (starting at £ 9)
and higher income groups (at £ 130).
While the potential of the application of nanotechnology is apparent,
the roll out is not very widespread. The second theme highlights the
barriers that impede the realization of the potential. The sector is
plagued by both supply end barriers of costs, logistics and risk
management as well as demand side issues related to the awareness levels
and the (felt and latent) needs of the community.
There is a need to explore successful service delivery models and
absorptive capacities of the population to overcome these barriers. The
next theme touches upon emerging approaches that have found varied
degrees of success in reaching the BoP from different sectors like
water, energy, ICT etc. Design elements which run common in these
approaches as well as validated through consultations are culled out and
Finally the report brings out the key research gaps that need to be
filled in order to ensure that technology benefits reach the BoP.
Incubation support and funding are impediments for productizing a proven
technology. The policy environment also needs to consider risks and
benefits of these technologies and be moulded so as to protect the end
user and the environment. Finally the delivery mechanisms that will
reach the BoP need to be explored. While we have pointers towards
creating a mechanism that works, there is a need to test its potential
to be scaled up.
The study reiterated the need for in-depth translational research in
ensuring that the basic needs of the BoP are met. It is time for
research to move away from being a stand alone activity to work with
diverse stakeholders in the field to solve real issues.
Development Alternatives Group, New Delhi, India, 31 pp.
Access to Safe Water: Approaches for Nanotechnology Benefits to Reach the Bottom of the Pyramid. Final Technical Report May 2011