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[HARARE] Poor communities must be involved in debates about whether nanotechnologies can contribute to social and economic development, said delegates at a series of meetings in Zimbabwe this month.

The last of the three 'nano-dialogues' — attended by Zimbabwean scientists and representatives of local communities — took place on 22 July in Harare.

The meetings focused on how nanotechnology could be used to solve Zimbabwe's water problems. Among other things, participants discussed a recent trial in South Africa of a nanotechnology-based filter for decontaminating drinking water.

The nano-dialogues were initiated by Practical Action, a UK charity that helps poor communities choose and use appropriate technologies to improve their lives, in collaboration with UK-based think-tank Demos and the University of Lancaster.

"If we are going to make nanotechnology work for Zimbabwe, we need to keep talking to the communities to ask them what they really need," said Lawrence Gudza, Practical Action's team leader for Southern Africa

"We also need to start collaborating with scientists in Africa and further afield," he said. "It was great to see scientists and ordinary people coming together to talk about how new technologies might be used in the future."

David Grimshaw, who leads Practical Action's new technologies programme said, "Zimbabwe's water needs are unlikely to be met with nanotechnology until we can prove it is cost effective and sustainable."

He said his organisation was interested in how nanotechnology could be made to address what people need, rather than what the market dictates.

Opening the meeting, Zimbabwe's deputy science and technology minister Patrick Zhuwawo said that his country, like the rest of the world, could not afford to ignore the nanoscience revolution.

"Dialogues such as this one should therefore help us come up with a well thought-out strategy," he said.