The effects of climate change and a growing population have put pressure on water needs across rural Morocco.
The country’s southwest Sidi Ifni region, a naturally arid area, bordering the Sahara, has been among the hardest hit for several years. Water shortages have been created by the depletion of underground aquifers and sporadic rainfall patterns. Worse still, “repeated cycles of intense drought followed by flash floods have led to deaths and the devastation of local infrastructure” as Celeste Hicks reported for The Guardian in December 2016.
The one natural water resource that persists in the region’s Anti-Atlas mountain range is fog. The mountain range has an average of 143 foggy days per year. While average annual precipitation is less than 130mm, a great deal of water remains hidden in that fog.
Looking for ways to make use of this resource, and mitigate the onset of desertification and drought, the Dar Si Hmad Foundation began investigating fog harvesting projects back in 2006. After many years of research and development, Dar Si Hmad, a Morocco-based sustainability NGO, installed twenty fog-catching units in the mountain range in 2015. The project was pursued in partnership with Aqualonis, a company that produces mesh fog collectors.
Placed along the slopes of Mount Boutmezguida, at an altitude of 1,225 meters (higher than 4,000 feet), the fog catchers, called CloudFishers, cover 600 square meters (almost 2,000 square feet). Collectively they produce about 6,300 liters (over 1,600 gallons) of fresh water per day, enough for 400 people. If current regional weather patterns remain consistent, the project is expected to yield 2.3 million liters (more than 607,000 gallons) of water per year.
While the effects are impressive, harvesting fog is hardly new. The idea was first seriously developed in South America during the 1980s. Other fog harvesting projects currently exist in Chile, Peru, Ghana, Eritrea, South Africa, and the United States. Morocco’s project is, however, by far the most extensive.
Recently improved collection technologies can also stretch Morocco’s fog harvest network even further. The next generation of CloudFisher nets, for example, will double the amount of water collected. Dar Si Hmad plans to install these newer mesh nets later this year, and expand Morocco’s network of fog collectors from twenty to thirty-one units in total. By mid-2018, the mesh collectors are expected to cover a total area of 1,700 square meters (over 5,500 square feet), more than double their current area. While 8 km of pipeline have been laid, so far, to provide water to five villages, another eight villages are expected to be added to the system, as a result of these new technological developments.
Besides addressing the water shortage, the fog harvesting project is intended to reduce the burdensome water gathering that often falls to women and girls. Traditionally, women and girls have been responsible for collecting water from distant wells, a chore than can easily take an entire day. The newly installed pipe system eliminates this necessity, thereby, hopefully, enabling girls to more regularly attend school. Dar Si Hmad has also been training villagers, women especially, to work with the new system of water collection. Whether these efforts have actually improved the lives of women and girls remains to be seen, however, as there has been no documentary evidence presented, thus far.
The fog harvesting project has had a remarkable impact in Morocco’s Sidi Ifni region, as the UN recognized when it bestowed the Momentum for Change climate change award on the initiative in September 2016. While fog harvesting in rural Morocco still has a ways to go before it can meet the region’s water needs, the advances it has made so far suggest a promising future.