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[ALGIERS] Tunisia has launched the first project applying nanotechnology in the Arab Maghreb region of north western Africa. 

The project aims to monitor and purify the waters of the Medjerda River, the longest river in Tunisia.

Three mobile laboratories will monitor river water, after which data will be analysed at a new research centre. The laboratories will then be mobilised to expand the project to other areas of the country.

"Tunisia is exposed to water crises due to climate change. Rivers and groundwater will be an important part of the solution, and the government has given us the green light to act on that," Mohammed Ben Hussein, project manager at Tunisia's National Agency of Environmental Protection, told SciDev.Net.

The Tunisian government has set an initial budget of around US$580,000 for the project. Hussein said that the group also has promises from the government for funding for other projects until 2016 if this one succeeds.

The project, partially funded and supported by Belgium, is the first project of the Tunisian Association for Environmental Nanotechnology. The association was set up in December 2008 but it took a year to convince policymakers of the importance of nanotechnology, particularly for providing water suitable for drinking and irrigation, say the scientists.

Nadhir Hamada, Tunisia's minister of environment and sustainable development, said in a press release that he expects future applications of nanotechnology in Tunisia to incorporate different sectors such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Scientists in North African countries are increasingly interested in nanotechnology. Last year, Egypt launched a nanotechnology and nanoscience research centre that aims to be world-class, with support from computer giant IBM (See Egypt to host first Northern African nanotech centre).

And, more recently, Algeria launched several joint research projects with Iranian scientists in nanotechnology applications in environment and water management. But most of this research is yet to be applied, partly because of limited funding.