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Purifying Clay to Relieve Thirsty Pakistan

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Dr. Muhammad Usman Ghori at work in a research lab at the University of Huddersfield, UK, 2016 (Photo courtesy University of Huddersfield) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

HUDDERSFIELD, England, UK, March 3, 2020 (Maximpact.com News) – An abundant supply of fresh, clean water soon will be a reality in Pakistan’s semi-arid South Punjab region, following the announcement of a new international partnership agreement based on clay, spearheaded by the Government of Pakistan and driven by the UK’s University of Huddersfield.

The initiative, led by University of Huddersfield senior research fellow Dr. Muhammad Usman Ghori, who was born and raised in the region, will transform the water supply into affordable drinking water and also will provide a sustainable raw material for the manufacture of healthcare products.

A considerable part of Pakistan’s population needs this water initiative. In a 2019 study, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR)  found that a sizeable portion of the supplied water to South Punjab was not suitable for human consumption. The region’s groundwater is brackish, and the contaminated water contributes to a number of deaths every year. Pakistan’s financial resources are drained by spending on health care for people who suffer from water-borne diseases.

According to the PCRWR report, four different water availability indicators indicate that Pakistan is now a water-scarce country and is fast approaching absolute water scarcity.

Yet, a solution to providing a clean water supply is present in abundance in the region’s Koh-e-Suleiman mountain range in the form of a raw nanoclay called montmorillonite.

Montmorillonite clay has been identified as possessing desirable properties for exploitation across different industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, engineering and healthcare.

A recent University of Huddersfield-led research article, published in the journal “Nature: Scientific Reports,” explores a new source of montmorillonite in the Koh-e-Suleiman mountain range in South Punjab.

Dr. Ghori, who will be working with Pakistani officials to bring affordable drinking water to the people of South Punjab, explained that this raw clay requires a sophisticated purification protocol to remove undesirable substances such as lead, arsenic and crystalline silica, which could have adverse health effects.

This area of South Punjab has a large dependence on agriculture and relatively low levels of industrialization, so it currently faces higher levels of poverty and unemployment compared with the rest of the province.

An abundant supply of this raw clay could help with economic conditions in the region so, in addition to physicochemical characterization, this study investigated the practicality and economic feasibility of its extraction and purification for large-scale industrial applications by comparing the properties of the small-scale extracted clay to the large-scale extracted clay, and by conducting a techno-economic analysis.

Ghori anticipates that the findings of the University of Huddersfield study will improve the economic condition of the region by providing employment opportunities to local residents and a valuable resource for export.

Collaboration with Pakistani universities and research institutes is now underway aimed at using this natural resource for the benefit of the local people, not just in purifying the water supply, but for further industrial applications that would expand the economy of the region and provide work and industry for its people.

Originally from Sahiwal in Central Punjab, Dr. Ghori studied for five years at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in the Southern Punjab city of Multan, where he completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

It was during his time there as a student that he became deeply concerned about how unhealthy water was causing harm to the poorer families in the region. He also became aware of the readily-available natural clay that could present a sustainable and environmentally-friendly solution to the water supply problem.

The pharmaceutical qualities of montmorillonite clay are well known and documented, and it was the possibilities offered by this clay that made an impression on the young pharmacist.

Still, the prospect of helping the people of Pakistan in their quest for clean water would only resurface years later after Ghori had completed his PhD and postdoctoral study at the University of Huddersfield.

It was on his appointment as a senior research fellow at the university that his interest in montmorillonite clay returned and he applied to the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

The university’s Head of Pharmacy Professor Barbara Conway said, “It has been a very exciting opportunity for us to be involved in this study. Usman joined the University as a PhD student under my supervision and it has been highly rewarding to support him in new endeavors, applying his knowledge and expertise to solve new challenges.”

Professor Michael Ginger, the University’s Dean of Applied Sciences said, “Usman’s translational work at the interfaces of sustainability, materials science and pharmaceutical science to develop scalable extraction procedures for Koh-e-Suleiman montmorillonite encapsulates perfectly the GCRF ethos of using multi-discipline science to enable, in this instance, clean water and economic growth within a poor, rural area.”

Yet, although the clay deposits are very accessible and easily mineable, they are situated on Pakistan government property and to ensure further funding the idea needed to involve Pakistan authorities at all levels.

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Pakistani officials meet with Dr. Muhammad Usman Ghori, left. Around the table, from left, Andleeb Abbas, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Mohammad Nafees Zakaria. July 2019 (Photo courtesy University of Huddersfield) Posted for media use.

To establish this strategic partnership, Dr. Ghori first shared his vision and initiative with the High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, who played an instrumental role in establishing research links in Pakistan.

Now, a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed that will initiate a strategic partnership to develop a network led by the University of Huddersfield with the support of the Government of Pakistan, which will include universities in Pakistan.

High Commissioner Zakaria said his own drive to find, nurture, guide and facilitate young Pakistani talent in the UK to the benefit of both the countries and to cement bilateral relations further, connected with Dr. Ghori’s aspiration to help people in Pakistan using his scientific research.

Mr. Zakaria expressed optimism that such initiatives, leading to quality research in Pakistan, will usher in an era of innovation and development that will place Pakistan on the world map.

He thanked Foreign Minister and Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry for their support.

Dr. Ghori had briefed Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on his research during the minister’s official visit to the United Kingdom last July.

“The UK is among Pakistan’s very close friends,” said Qureshi. “The relationship has its roots in pre-independence period and the 1.5 million Pakistani Diaspora in the UK is a strong bridge between the two countries. Cultivating deeper and diverse partnership with the UK is a priority in our foreign policy. I am delighted to learn that the University of Huddersfield’s researchers and scientists have taken such an initiative. “The Government welcomes them and will extend every support in their endeavours in Pakistan.”

Qureshi was delighted at the signing of the MoU as a platform for putting in place an institutionalised arrangement, saying that important developments in the regions where the UK and Pakistan are situated have opened up new avenues for co-operation and opportunities.

Pakistan’s Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Hussain Chaudhry congratulated the Huddersfield team and expressed his “contentment and happiness” at the signing of the MoU by the University with Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources and five Pakistani universities.

“Under Prime Minister Imran Khan, high importance has been attached to the emerging technologies and many policy initiatives have been taken,” Chaudhry said.

The university’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor Dave Taylor commented, “The University of Huddersfield is dedicated to developing scientific solutions with global impact and improving the quality of life for people across the world. Our researchers, like Dr. Ghori, have been inspired to further their education, widen their experience and dedicate their careers to helping others who are not as fortunate as them.”

 

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