Let's start at the beginning

I would like to introduce myself as a guest writer to this column. My name is Jackie and, next Monday, I will have been married to Mark for 35 years.

I know if you have been reading this column for a while you may know all about me already, I just hope you don’t believe everything you read.

You may be wondering how we got involved with global poverty issues, particularly unsafe water. I was very fortunate to have been dragged around the world on family vacations while growing up, with friends and family spread across the globe. 

An appreciation of, and an interest in, different cultures was nurtured and has never relented. If I come across a National Geographic magazine in a waiting room somewhere, I always turn to the “people’ stories first.

My goal in tackling the writing of a column is to share my experiences, try to understand what I have learned and to try and pass on some of the joy I have discovered helping others.

Over the next few weeks, I would like to describe some of the trips we have been fortunate enough to undertake, discuss some of the issues by digging into the Sustainable Development Goals and do some book reviews as we undertake a learning adventure together.

Finally, we hope to encourage other local friends of ours who work in the field to weigh in with their stories. I know they have some great tales to tell.

So, let’s start where it all began, in Africa. When I was eight, we went to South Africa for a month to visit my uncle and aunt. The game parks were incredible:

  • Getting up at dawn to catch site of the rare wild dogs
  • Having deadly snakes slither under the car
  • Watching crocodile eyes slowly rise up out of a water hole to stare right at me as we crossed a creek.

The most vivid wildlife memory is being chased back to my hut by a warthog I interrupted from tipping over the garbage cans.

I also remember apartheid. My Dad was very disturbed about having to use a different door to enter a post office. It was all the same room once through the door, so it seemed completely ludicrous to us, and we wanted to be rebels, but wisely thought we had better not.

Most significantly perhaps, we borrowed a VW Combi and while we were many miles from the city, I got very sick from drinking the water. Fortunately, we had the resources to drive back to base and get the required medicine from the family doctor.

Many years later, Mark was travelling in exactly the same region near Durban when he visited a village where 300 children had died from an outbreak of diarrhea.

He was horrified this could happen in a fairly developed country and didn’t seem unusual to anyone. It would cause outrage here. Yet, parents love their children just as much in Africa.

This sparked our focus on safe water and he came home determined to do what we could to make a difference.

Come back next week to see how we tried to do just that…


Don't get too distracted

It is easy in the current environment to become insular. Human nature kicks in and we start protecting ourselves and our families.

However, for many around the globe, life did not get much worse with the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure for us, there are economic ramifications, education ramifications, social ramifications and on and on.

However, if you live in a remote corner of a developing country where you have to walk 20 kilometres a day for water, what changed?

Probably, the focus of the rest of the world in helping to solve the problem, because our own personal problems were magnified.

With this column, a group of local people working in the non-profit/NGO sector wish to bring you insight into some of the world's challenges, whether that is:

  • Homelessness in Canada
  • Water issues in indigenous communities
  • Poverty and starvation overseas.

We will dig for facts, truth, solutions and innovation. While we work in the sector, attempting to assist with those issues, this is not a self-promotional column.

When almost 5,000 children die each and every day because of lack of access to safe water, how can it not be our issue? This is, and should be, a shared issue.

We seek solutions, we encourage feedback and dialogue and we are always looking for situations that we have not covered at any point.

The one caveat is that we will not be covering animal welfare or other charities that are typically outside of poverty challenges.

Our purpose is to reduce global poverty and we hope in some way that we can help inform you of the current focal points as well as developing innovations and solutions that can assist.

We will keep you informed on a two-weekly cycle and we look forward to hearing from you and connecting with you.

Nanotech to the rescue?

Cleaning up the mess with nanotechnology

Several years ago, I was in Perth, Australia talking to an engineer about a problem his company had.

He had to solve a problem with tailings ponds at an aluminum plant that had been producing aluminum for quite some time, and had been sold. 

The problem with tailing ponds in any industry is typically the condensed amount of toxins. In the aluminum tailings ponds, the issue was not simply the toxic components, but the fact that the solution is extremely alkaline. 

We talked about how nanotechnology could perhaps play a role. In South America, some leading nanotechnologists had developed a process to remove arsenic and cyanide from tailings ponds, which is a big problem for Canada.

However, in Australia, we extrapolated that based on the science, the nano particles of iron should be able to attract some of the toxins from the ponds, which could then be recovered and treated, leaving the ponds much cleaner. 

The engineer agreed that it was probably the best solution. In fact, it was probably the only solution on the table.

The problem then? The budget required to clean the liquid ponds. 

The discussion that ensues must surely be who is responsible for the clean up in these situations?

The fact is, corporations are typically in a relationship with the government in the form of a licence fee, duties, franchise, whatever you decide to call it.

Similarly, indigenous communities often become involved based on their approval for a slice of the pie. But when it comes to pay for the clean of the environment, multiple sets of hands go up, with their owners saying it is not my problem or they point the finger at the next person. 

In many instances, once an area has been mined, the gross proceeds from the mining operation or extraction operation do not equate to the cost of reparation.

It poses the questions why would we start in the first place?

If governments approved it and indigenous communities signed in to a business relationship, whose job is it to ensure we clean up after we have extracted and made a profit?

Regardless of the questions, in this instance, the potential to spend more than $200 million on a clean up program was not going to work.

So we asked what the solution was. 

The engineer leaned on the table, looked us in the eye and said, we only have one solution; for the next 200 years, dilute the ponds slowly and carefully and release a safer and smaller amount of material into the ocean. 

In my mind, that is not a solution and we should be held accountable to cleaning up our own mess.

Perhaps in the next conversation requiring the dumping of toxins into a lake, the solution will be discussed before the budget and the appropriate funds allocated before production starts.


Nanotech hits the road

I feel like I should write a column about COVID-19, but more people are doing that, so let’s stick with the plan. 

As I mentioned last week, I wanted to write a series of articles about nanotechnology and the impact it can have around the world. 

One thing I can count on is voluminous feedback from all the people who dislike reading my column yet, continue to read it, which always confuses me, but thank you anyway.

If you do the research, it turns out that there is a lot of scientific data that supports the positive impact nanotechnology applications can make in society.

One area I first learned about several years ago was utilizing the unique properties of nanotechnology to fortify soils and build roads that are at least equivalent in strength to existing technologies, yet offer some superior qualities in terms of porosity, low maintenance and economics. 

While we analyze a road technology that offers a comparable product for less money and reduces maintenance, it should be enough to turn heads.

Indeed, in places like Africa it is.

This could be attributed to less availability of funding for infrastructure but it, like cell phones or solar power, can lead to a technology jump where more traditional forms of road construction, such as asphalt or concrete, are bypassed for a preferred alternative. 

The technology is quite simple. Nano particles of iron and sometimes zinc are produced with a particular type of faceting and coating to allow them to react with native soils in a particular manner.

The construction process is similar to asphalt in terms of building an appropriate and engineered sub-base for the road and then fortifying the top layer to provide a smooth, strong driving surface. 

In essence, once the soil has been lab tested, a recipe is created for the top layer. A certain amount of the sub-base is “ripped” and mixed with the nano particles before being returned on top of the sub-base and then compacted. 

Over 24 hours, the iron and zinc oxidizes and bonds with the soil particulates, creating a very strong layer. This layer, because of the size of the nano particles, is virtually impermeable to water, which is what degrades roads quickly.

It also exhibits the ability to transfer heavy load because of the large surface area to mass ratio of the nano particles.

Once cured, tests have shown little degradation of the substrate after years of commercial use and a tremendous simplicity to the repair process. 

But the bigger news is the vast reduction of material movement required because of the use of in-situ soils. Aside from reducing logistics, this has a tacit positive effect on the environment with a reduction in GHG emissions from the logistics. 

Combine that with the fact you are not heating asphalt, transporting it and letting it cool in an open atmosphere and emit VOCs that are harmful to anyone in the vicinity, and you have what I believe is a game changing model in the infrastructure world that can impact the environment positively. 

Studies have shown that by comparison to asphalt, GHG emissions would be reduced by approximately 80% if we replaced asphalt roads with nanotechnology roads. 

If you extrapolate that to the forecast number of roads to be built by 2050, it is equivalent to grounding all aircraft for nine years. 

I understand it is easy to say “so what,” but this week, with a vast reduction in vehicle traffic, manufacturing emissions around the world and less productivity, we are already seeing quick examples of cleaner oceans and air. 

What is unusual is that green technologies often cost more. This may be one example where not only can we benefit the environment, but we can save some money in the process.

More A Focus on Saving Lives articles

About the Author

Mark has been an entrepreneur for more than 40 years. His experience spans many commercial sectors and aspects of business.

He was one of the youngest people to be appointed as a Fellow of the prestigious Institute of Sales and Marketing Management before he left the U.K. in 1988.

His column focuses on ways we can improve on success in our lives. Whether it is business, relationships, or health, Mark has a well-rounded perspective on how to stay focused for growth and development.

His influences come from the various travels he undertakes as an adventurer, philanthropist and keynote speaker. More information can be found on Mark at his website www.markjenningsbates.com

He is a Venture Partner with www.DutchOracle.com a global Alternative Investment company.

Mark Jennings-Bates:
[email protected]

Photo credit: www.SteveAustin.ca 

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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