UN nuclear watchdog agency helps Africa boost water supplies, agriculture, health
The United Nations atomic watchdog agency, better known for its efforts to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, is boosting the use of radiation technology in Africa to promote development in numerous fields, from groundwater management and pest control to battling cancer and supplying energy.
Nearly all of the IAEA’s development activities in Africa support in some way the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhamad ElBaradei said on an official visit to Algeria.
The MDGs seek to slash a host of social ills, such as extreme hunger and poverty, infant and maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.
Highlighting a whole slew of IAEA support for African development, Mr. ElBaradei cited the use of isotope hydrology as a tool in managing water resources. Because water contains different isotopes, isotopic dating can be used to estimate the origins and movement of water and determine the availability and capacity of underground aquifers.
In the field of food security, one of the most challenging problems facing Africa, IAEA is supporting pest control through the sterile insect technique (SIT), where radiation is used to sterilize otherwise healthy insects, which are then released to mate without producing offspring, thus controlling and gradually eradicating the pest population.
SIT is one of the methods being used to combat the tsetse fly. Trypanosomosis, also known as sleeping sickness, the parasitic disease carried by this fly, is considered a major constraint to sustainable development, affecting both humans and livestock.
In human health, the IAEA helps countries in using nuclear and isotopic techniques to assess immune responses of individuals infected by various diseases, to monitor the emergence of drug resistance, and to evaluate the effectiveness of nutrition strategies. Current Agency projects support applying these techniques to national and regional efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
For almost three decades, the IAEA has also been providing developing countries with radiation technology and training to diagnose and treat cancer.
For energy production, a good part of IAEA efforts are focused on helping Member States to build their capacity to use nuclear technologies effectively and in a sustainable manner.
“Capacity building in science and technology is a prerequisite for addressing national and global challenges associated with basic human needs: the right to food, water, energy, healthcare, housing and education,” Mr. ElBaradei said.