At first sight, these large black nets stretched vertically in the middle of nowhere have no reason to be. They do, however, fulfill a great mission: transforming fog into water. This unusual idea has changed the lives of the inhabitants of five villages in southwestern Morocco, who no longer have to travel several kilometers each day to fetch the precious liquid.
This unusual installation is located 1,225 meters above sea level, at the summit of the Boutmezguida mountain which overlooks five villages of the Sidi Ifni region. It is there that about forty huge nets have been facing a dense fog since 2014.
No More Suffering
In a remote region with a semi-arid climate, having water by opening a simple tap is a “revolution”, states Aïssa Derhem, president of the Dar Si Hmad organization. In Douar Id Achour, which is one of the five communities served, women and children lost an average of four hours a day by going back and forth to find water. This is even more common in summer, when water becomes rarer.
“I filled two 20-liter cans four times during the day, but those 160 liters were not enough for us because we have cattle,” says one of the inhabitants, Massouda Boukhalfa.
Thanks to this project, the inhabitants of the village are saving precious time that can now be put towards producing more argan oil- a product that is the reputation of the South Moroccan.
“Our wives and daughters do not get tired anymore, they go to school and are safe. With the time gained, they make argan oil”, says Lahcen Hammou Ali, 54 years.
NGOs in the Service of the Community
Led by women in the remote area, the Dar Si Hmad organization is the body that regulates this project. It is described as “the world’s largest operational fog-water harvesting system”. Dar Si Hmad designed and installed a “fog recycling” program, which is an innovative solution to persistent water stress in an area where fog is abundant. The technique is inspired by ancestral practices of harvesting dew water. This unique project resulted from a local initiative’s effort to adapt to climate change through provision of water, and combat the effects of desertification. Rains are rare in this region, but fog is everywhere. “For years, villagers have been wondering how to turn this moisture into water,” said Dar Si Hmad‘s president.
The organization wants to equip as many villages as possible and replace the existing nets with new models that are able to withstand a wind of 120 km/h.
“The nets are now exportable in other cities of Morocco- in all the mountainous regions, and on the waterfront”, declared Mr. Derhem, who dreams of one day spreading the project to all Moroccan sites full of fog.
The mission of this NGO is to ensure a sustainable living, as well as create opportunities to help low-income communities learn and prosper. With environmental education as the first step, the NGO promotes better understanding and management of natural resources. They also place their actions at the intersection between an ancestral knowledge of the natural world, and the advances of an enlightened contemporary science. The combination is what makes the protection of biodiversity and life on Earth an ultimate priority. With these concepts in mind, the idea of the project was born.
A Well-Developed Project
The system known as “cloud fishing” consists of trapping water droplets in 600m² of polypropylene sensor nets and storing them with a capacity of 539 m3. Liquid is then mixed with 30% groundwater to enrich itself with minerals, and flows through more than 10 000 m of pipes to the homes in surrounding villages. This results in 6,300 liters of water harvested each day. The system also supplies 80 to 100 households with 25 to 30 liters per person per day.
The principle of collecting fog water must follow three parameters: First, it must be in a region subject to a lot of fog. Second, it must be in an anticyclonic zone close to an ocean with cold water. Third, it is necessary to have a relief, or a natural obstacle, such as a high mountain that is between 500 and 600 meters above sea level. Fortunately, the conditions in Morocco have always been suitable for starting the project and spreading it to other countries. “Morocco has a lot of fog because of three phenomena: the presence of an anticyclone (the Azores), a cold maritime current, and the obstacle represented by the mountain,” explained the president of the NGO in charge of this initiative.
The story began in 2006, with the launch of the first experiment to assess potential water atop the Boutmezguida Mountain. In 2011, the results of the exploratory period were validated. This allowed 600 m² of nets to be built at the top of Boutmezguida mountain at 1225 m altitude.
In November 2014, the experimental phase was launched with partners, including the German Water Foundation (Wasserstiftung). In March 2015, the project was officially inaugurated.
A new generation of net fog sensors are currently linking 8 other villages to the grid with 1,700 m² of netting for 37,400 liters per day. These allow the inhabitants to save money by avoiding the purchases from tank trucks. They also save the enduring marches, in various weather conditions, to fetch water.
Symbolically, the valves were opened for the first time on the twenty-first of March 2014, World Water Day. “More than 100 households, or almost 500 people, have since received running water to their homes”, explained Mounir Abbar, in charge of the technical management of the project.
An Award-Winning Project
The project got the United Nations Momentum for Change Climate Change Award during the latest COP 22 organized in Marrakech. Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, attended the event alongside Bertrand Piccard, pilot of the Solar Impulse solar aircraft.
The Momentum for Change initiative is led by the UN secretariat on climate change to highlight some of the most innovative, evolving, and replicable examples of what people are doing to fight climate change. Today’s announcement is part of wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition, while national governments are working on the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Accord and the sustainable development.