The negative health effects are becoming much more evident. Africa Check, a non-profit, non-partisan, fact-checking group whose main purpose is to improve news gathering in Africa, has found that one of Africa’s leading causes of death were Diarrhoeal diseases. One of the main reasons for this was unsafe water. The harmful toxins found within the water would ultimately destroy the nutrients in the soil necessary for agriculture. It goes without saying that this would decrease the food supply, increasing levels of malnourishment.
However, air pollution is much more hazardous. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, around 600,000 deaths are linked to air pollution in Africa yearly. The causes range from the fuel used for cooking indoors, to gases emitted by vehicles. By introducing biotechnology, filtration systems can be implemented to combat both air and water pollution. The decontamination in polluted airways and water would decrease the contaminants in the soil necessary for agriculture.
Health would also improve since several diseases caused by the contaminants in air and water would also decrease.
Biotechnology is present in Africa, but few countries have any policies relating to modern biotechnology or have experience applying it to Gm crops. By making this technology more ubiquitous, the health and lives of Africans would benefit tremendously. Biotechnology and Water There’s currently a lack of access to safe, clean water in Africa. The World Health Organization noted that only 16% of people had access to drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa in 2004. There’s already a scarcity of clean water, but actual access to water is even lower.
Despite 16% of people having access to drinking water, that water may still be contaminated due to a lack of a filtration system. The introduction of microbial biotechnology may alleviate this issue. According to Bruce Rittman, a professor of environmental engineering and director of the Swette Center for Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University, microbial communities can detoxify contaminants in water, soils, sediments, and sludge.
Bringing bioengineered communities to Africa can serve as a wastewater treatment, removing contaminants and increasing the accessibility to clean drinking water. This type of bioengineered community is already in effect in the world today and plays a major role in wastewater treatment plants. However, according to Per Halkjær Nielsen, a professor in the department of chemistry and bioscience at Aalborg University, “the applicability of any microbiological treatment system strongly depends on the stability of the microbial ecosystem.” The management of microbial communities would play a vital role in a wastewater treatment system. To satisfy this requirement, new engineering tools would have to be introduced as well; one that may be introduced is the membrane Biofilm Reactor which removes oxidized contaminants by delivering H2 gases. According to Bruce Rittman, “¬ H2 has many advantages as an electron donor for driving microbial reduction reactions… it should allow reliable reduction of many oxidized contaminants.”
Bringing in these new technologies would improve the water quality in Africa by providing them with a form of a water purification system. With access to cleaner water, diseases related to water pollution such as diarrheal diseases, cholera, etc. would decrease. Furthermore, agriculture also would also improve due to a decrease in contaminants within the water in the soil. Even so, the poor sanitation in Africa must be acknowledged. Around 60% of Africa’s urban population live in slum-like conditions with poor sanitation services. Even if these technologies are introduced, if Africa still has poor urban planning and management of domestic wastewater, pollution levels may stay unchanged. Air pollution The problems with water quality are much less deleterious compared to air pollution. According to Africa Check, around 490,000 – 760,000 Africans died in 2015. This was caused by inhaling toxic fumes from the burning of solid fuels for heating and cooking.
Furthermore, there is a linear correlation between premature exposure to air pollution and deaths. Around 22% of infant deaths are linked to exposure to Particulate Matter (PM) air pollution. According to Jonathan O Anderson, a professor at the University of South Florida in the department of emergency medicine, et al. “Pm is a portion of air pollution that is made up of extremely small particles and liquid droplets containing acids, organic chemicals, metals… or dust particles.” (Jonathan et al.) If Pm levels are too high, exposure would have the potential to end one’s life. Introducing bioreactors may solve this issue. Bioreactors center on the use of bioreactions. Bioreactions consume pollutants in an airstream with the use of microbes. Considering the fact that Africa is still underdeveloped, the installation of biofilters are generally low in costs and can be constructed from common materials such as: lumber, fiberglass, and plastic pipes. However, in order for microorganisms to work to their full potential, several conditions must be met.
According to Zarook Sharefdeen, a professor in the department of chemical engineering in the American University of SharJah, “Microorganisms require a range of nutrients for growth and activity to carry out biodegradation of pollutants.” (Zarook 2005) Microbes would also need moisture to survive as well as the correct temperature range (30 – 40°C), cold air may have the potential to reduce their activity. Using biological treatments for air pollution may work, but Africa must change the fuels they’re using. Bioreactors are just a means of purifying the air of contaminants. The true issue may only be solved by switching to cleaner alternatives as fuel. These bioreactors may not work in every situation as well. E.g., if an emission has too high a Ph, it must first be neutralized before entering a bioreactor.
The humidity must also be taken into consideration and there are a plethora of other factors that must be considered. The introduction of bioreactors are not a quick fix, rather a way to mitigate the issue of air pollution. Agriculture The quality of the air doesn’t just detrimental to people. The air contaminants have the ability to combine with water droplets, causing acid rain. This would lead to increased water pollution which would decrease the production of crops. Possible solutions for both the water pollution and air pollution have already been discussed, but biotechnology may have the potential to create Gm crops more suitable to polluted environments. To combat the decreased nutrients in soil due to pollution, increased regulation of plant root system architecture (RSA) is needed. According to Eric D.
Rogers, a professor at Duke University in the Department of Biology and Philip N Benfey, a professor of biology at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, “RSA describes the spatial arrangement of root tissue within the soil and is therefore crucial to nutrient and water uptake.” (Eric and Philip 2015) Managing the rhizosphere according to the RSA plays a major role to the nutrient intake of crops. The rhizosphere is the portion of soil in the ground which can influence a plant’s growth nutrition. Introducing Plant-Growth promoting Rhizobacteria (PGPR) to help in the management of the rhizoshpere will allow crop cultivation in soil with little fertility.
Beatriz Ramos, a professor at CEU San Pablo University et al., said Plant-Growth promoting Rhizobacteria can be used for, “biofertilizers, biocontrol agents, induction of systemic resistance, and elicitors of secondary metabolic pathways that lead to products of nutritional and pharmacological interest…”. One use of PGPR is the inoculation of nutrient-mobilizing bacteria in soil where nutrients are scarce, while other uses may range from plant growth to enhancement of a plant’s defensive response. However, according to Africa Check, 13.8 million people were below the poverty line in 2015, and 66.8% of children lived in poverty in 2011. Considering this, Africa may not yet be able to afford such technologies. Conclusion The challenges concerning pollution in Africa have been ongoing for several decades. More developed nations have utilized newer technologies and their benefits have become evident through countless documentations.
Introducing modern biotechnology will not only improve the health and sanitation in Africa, but it will also modernize several of its countries’ technological equipment. Filtration systems and increase in Gm crops will ultimately decrease the number of deaths from malnourishment and diseases caused by contaminants in air and water. However, the issue of poverty is still at hand. Before Africa might focus on the implementation of certain biotechnologies, they may just focus on improving their economy. There are several other factors that may delay the implementation and use of biotechnology that should also be acknowledged like political corruption, lack of a strong education system, etc. Moreover, biotechnology should not be limited to just the environment. The benefits of biotechnology should be fully utilized and included in both at-home use, medicine, and environmental efforts.