The Arab world should act fast if it is not to miss the nanotechnology revolution, an expert has said.
“We only have a few nanotechnology centres and they are not complementing each other,” Saudi Arabia’s Center of Nanotechnology (King Abdul Aziz University) director Sami Habib said.
He was addressing the opening session of an experts’ meeting on ethics of nanotechnologies in the Arab region, organised by Unesco’s Cairo and Doha offices with participation from regional and international figures.
He highlighted the need to build a well-developed nanotechnology network.
Pointing out that global spending on nanotechnology was $20bn, Habib suggested that the Arab world, which has a population of 300mn people or 5% of the global population, ought to spend $1bn on research and development, as against a “fraction which is being spent now.”
“The Arab world has only three to five years to do what is needed so as not to miss the nanotechnology revolution like it missed the industrial revolution,” he said.
Earlier, welcoming the participants, Unesco Doha director Hamed al-Hammami explained that a major objective of the meeting was to start a process leading to a framework for a ‘Declaration on Ethics of Nanotechnologies in Arab States.’
This is to be finalised by Unesco in full consultation with other regional agencies and the global ethics of science community.
The other objectives are to initiate a regional dialogue on the scientific, ethical and religious aspects of nanotechnologies and to discuss appropriate approaches to build capacity to address the ethical issues of nanotechnologies in the region.
Also part of the agenda are discussing a mechanism to assess and manage the risks and benefits of nanotechnologies, the role of education and sensitising the public to the issues of nanotechnologies, and exploring the possibility of establishing regional and international co-operation to address issues of research on nanotechnologies.
World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (Comest) chairman Prof Dr Alain Pompidou and Comest member Philippe Busquin are among the attendees. Busquin is a former commissioner of European Union for research and European Parliament member.
Nanotechnologies currently are one of the most rapidly developing technologies with many promising applications in medicine, energy, manufacturing and communication.
Like any new technology, they raise ethical issues, and the possible benefits and harms are increasingly discussed, especially the risk to the environment. There are also concerns of ‘nano-divide’ especially at the international level.
Comest, established as an advisory body to Unesco in 1998 and composed of 18 independent experts, had been addressing the ethical issues of nanotechnologies since 2003.
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