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Can Fog-Harvesting Save Drought-Stricken Communities?
Added On : 15 January 2012

Can Fog-Harvesting Save Drought-Stricken Communities?

  By Lindsey Hoshaw

Could rolling shrouds of fog be transformed into a veritable faucet for water-strapped communities? As climate change desiccates drought-stricken areas of the US and other deserts worldwide, researchers are re-examining a thirty-year-old method of capturing water: Fog harvesting.

Some researchers say for certain areas, fog harvesting may be the only means to allow communities to continue to thrive. But the practice is fraught with controversy, as other scientists say taking substantial amounts of water out of the atmosphere is not sustainable and could knock the climate system out of balance if implemented on a large-scale.

Nowhere is the story clearer than in a small village south of Sidi Ifni, a coastal town in Southwestern Morocco, where women and young girls must travel four hours round trip each day to collect water from a local well. This wastes precious time and often means their families must purchase water--often of questionable quality--if the women are unable to gather enough from the well.

I hope to tell their story and the New York Times is interested in publishing the story if it meets their editorial standards.

Collecting adequate water is especially difficult for families during the dry season when demand sharply increases. Buying water is extremely expensive for most families and some families have even decided to leave the countryside in hopes of finding sustainable water sources elsewhere. This often means moving to shanty-towns that border local cities, which keeps families living in poverty.

Luckily, volunteers from a local non-profit, Dar Si Hmad, have set up fine mesh nets in the Anti-Atlas mountains 30 KM south of Ifni to collect potable water for the villagers. Ten nets went up in June and July and with over 160 days of fog a year--but very little rain--Ifni is a perfect testing ground for gathering water from the air. The nets are so fine that tiny fog droplets cannot pass through and they are captured and emptied into a cistern. This supply provides potable water for families and their livestock.

While Dar Si-Hmad extols the benefits of fog harvesting, some scientists don't support a system that relies on taking substantial amounts of water out of the atmosphere. Morocco is already expected to receive 4% less rain in the next 20 years due to global warming. Removing more water could send the ecosystem out of balance and have a long term negative effect on local communities. Because fog-harvesting is a nascent technology, scientists are still working to understand how water removal from fog may affect the local ecosystems.

This article would compare Morocco's fog-harvesting project with long standing projects in Guatemala, Chile and Yemen. These projects were set up over a decade ago and may provide enough evidence to support or rebuke scientists' claims. How have villagers in these towns dealt with a new supply of water and has it alleviated the shortage?

Is fog-harvesting an innovative solution for creating clean water sources for millions of people who lack access to potable water across the world? Or is it a temporary solution that will damage local ecosystems?

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