Harvesting fog in Morocco

Friday 03/07/2015

Sidi Ifni - Green technology to turn fog into fresh water has put an end to exhaust­ing daily treks to distant wells by village women in south-western Morocco.
Families in five highland Berber communities have begun to ben­efit from “fog harvesting”, a tech­nique devised in Chile two decades ago and since taken up in countries from Peru to Namibia and South Africa.
On the summit of a mountain named Boutmezguida, which looms over the villages at 1,225 metres, thick fog shrouds about 40 finely meshed panels designed to trap water and relay it to a network of pipes.
To have water running from a faucet at home is a “revolution” for inhabitants of the semi-arid moun­tains known as the Anti-Atlas, says Aissa Derhem, the chairman of an active regional association called Dar Si Hmad for Development, Ed­ucation and Culture (DSH).
DSH prides itself on building “the world’s largest fog-collection and distribution system” and help­ing locals in the Sidi Ifni region — Derhem’s birthplace — to learn to operate it, after repeated droughts and scarce rain. “Our rain here is the fog,” Derhem adds.
Tiny droplets are caught on the mesh while fog wafts through pan­els. Harvesters mix all they catch with water derived from drilling, then supply villages on the lower slopes.
Derhem heard about fog harvest­ing 20 years ago. A few years later, on returning to Sidi Ifni, he realised that the local climate was similar to that of the Andes in South America.
DSH joined forces with Fog Quest, a Canadian charity whose volunteers work in a range of de­veloping countries. North Africa’s first pilot project became opera­tional after almost a decade’s work refining techniques.
The valves were opened at Sidi Ifni for the first time to mark World Water Day, March 22nd. Ever since, “92 households, or nearly 400 peo­ple” have enjoyed running water at home, says Mounir Abbar, the pro­ject’s technical manager.
“Morocco has a lot of fog because of three phenomena: the presence of an anticyclone from the Azores, a cold air current and a mountain­ous obstacle,” Derhem says.
The mesh that traps water is “merely an imitation of nature”, he adds, pointing out how spider webs catch minute droplets of wa­ter.
“This is ecological and enables us to look after the regional water table, which we have been empty­ing away,” Derhem says.
The scheme will be extended to other villages and, in time, advo­cates hope, to other parts of the country.
In the village of Douar Id Achour, residents are proud of their new taps, for good reason. Women and children used to spend an average of four hours a day on a round trip to a well, even longer in dry sum­mer.
“I filled two 20-litre containers four times a day,” says Massouda Boukhalfa, 47. “But even those 160 litres weren’t enough for us be­cause we have cattle as well.”
During droughts, water was carried in by tanker trunk. “That took a fortnight and cost 150 dir­hams ($15.60) for 5,000 litres on average,” young resident Houcine Soussane recalls.
According to Dar Si Hmad, 7,000 litres of fog water cost three times less than before, even with a fee of about $2 to each household for the right to a counter.
Villagers today have more time to collect the nutty fruit of argan trees and extract its prized and po­tentially lucrative oil, used in cook­ing, skin care and easing arthritis. Reputed as an anti-ageing product, argan oil has been taken up abroad as an ingredient in high-end cos­metics.
“Our women and daughters no longer wear themselves out. They go to school and are safe,” 54-year-old villager Lahcen Hammou Ali sums up. “With the time saved, we can pay for water all year by pro­ducing a bottle of argan oil.”
DSH wants to supply fog water to as many villages as possible in the area. It plans to replace mesh in the panels with a new variety that can resist wind speeds of 120 kilome­tres per hour.
The panels were installed on Moroccan soil with help from the German charity WasserStiftung and successfully passed the testing phase.
“The nets are now ready for ex­port to other towns in Morocco, in all the mountainous regions and along the seafront,” Derham says, hopeful they can be deployed in all highland areas where fogbanks are frequent.