Basis of Interest
Two key areas of convergence were identified once problems concerning the member countries were reviewed: environment and energy. These areas play an important role in research, innovation and development policies due to their social impact and relevance to member countries.
The proposal consists in addressing environmental issues placing the focus on contamination produced by heavy metals in fresh water resources. All countries within FEALAC are to a greater or lesser extent affected by this complex problem, which in addition to causing serious damage to the environment, also compromises food safety and the health of the population exposed to this sort of contaminant.
Hence, in the specific case of contamination produced by arsenic on fresh water for human use in South and East Asia, some 50 million people are exposed to concentrations of arsenic with values higher than those recommended by relevant environmental and health authorities. In Latin America, it is estimated that some 5 million people are exposed to contamination produced by this metal. In the figure below, contamination by arsenic (As) and by mercury (Hg) are shown on the map in red and blue respectively.
Governments of a large number of countries affected by contamination by heavy metals have formulated programs and policies oriented to obtain information and prepare mitigation and remediation plans regarding the presence of heavy metals. For instance, the Government of China invested some 6,700 million dollars between 2012 and 2014 in order to tackle contamination by heavy metals. In the next three years, it has already earmarked 451 million dollars to finance projects and infrastructure in order to mitigate and prevent this sort of contamination.
In Colombia, due to the significant problem that contamination by mercury poses at present, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development launched a Unified National Plan providing clear guidelines on transfer of technology, promoting the use of clean technologies, encouraging training, and building awareness on the use of mercury and products containing it, in a drive to minimize its impact and protect public health and the environment from its effects. On the other hand, the Colombian Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Network has established as one of its priority tasks the need to tackle contamination by heavy metals from the perspective of nanoscale technologies, specifically by means of measurement, monitoring, mitigation and nano- remediation.
Despite the fact that, within FEALAC countries there has been a number of initiatives aiming at monitoring, mitigating and remediating heavy metals present in fresh water for human consumption, there is a call to increase cooperation and joint research in an effort to address this serious environmental problem. Some countries lack information regarding the degree of contamination by this sort of contaminant and the size of the population exposed to it in excess of recommended values remains unknown.
Bio nano-technology offer new avenues for detection, measurement, monitoring, and remediation. There is no doubt that progress in detection, measurement and monitoring has been achieved by means of this technology. Within many FEALAC countries there is capacity at present to develop low-cost, high precision portable processes and systems. From a remediation point of view, one of the most important contributions that have sprung from the revolution that nano-technology entails has been the production of nanomaterials, which involves, in turn, innovative and exceptional properties relevant to the completion of this sort of tasks.
Likewise, bio-refinery offers an important opportunity to live up to energy challenges with a high degree of sustainability and environmental commitment, in tandem with the valuable contributions made by biomaterials when applied – amongst other uses- to heavy metal remediation. It is convenient that remediation tasks as well as energy production are framed in a single holistic context, in which strategies for remediation may be set up in conjunction with energy production, maintaining an optimal balance between results and the impact caused on the environment and living beings in general. This methodology demands that the toxicological effects and life cycle of processes and nanomaterials used must continuously be assessed.
It is beyond question that by means of the execution of this sort of projects, FEALAC leadership as a forum for the actual economic and political integration of member countries will be strengthened, hence contributing in the development of scientific knowledge and the application of technology, benefiting, as a result, both regions.
 Some initiatives, encouraging open and wide consultation with relevant experts and key members of the community in order to identify the main issues that modern societies within the 21st century have to cope with at a global level, show that there is consensus when considering that issues regarding energy, water and the environment are part of the key challenges that must be addressed urgently and effectively in order to guarantee the planet’s sustainability.
 The data considered in the elaboration of the map was collated from P. Ravenscroft et. el, Arsenic Pollution: a Global Synthesis. Wiley-Blackwell 2009 for arsenic; and United Nations Environment Program Mercury Time to Act, 2013, for mercury.