Fog harvesting is real — and it's bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.
High in the Anti-Atlas mountains of southwestern Morocco, there are several isolated villages where the Berber people have lived for centuries.
The Berber people, also called the Imazighen, have lived in scattered settlements across Morocco and its surrounding countries for thousands of years. As the descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa, their history dates back to prehistoric times. They have preserved their own language and culture despite numerous attempts to colonize them throughout history. Today, about 14 million Berber people live in Morocco.
Over the past 30 years, life has become increasingly difficult for the Berbers living in the Anti-Atlas mountains because of desertification and abnormally intense droughts, including one in 1986 that dried out the region so much that it has never fully recovered.
Before, while it had always been warm and dry there, they had sufficient rainwater and well water to survive and raise livestock. But these long dry spells forced women and children to spend an average of four hours a day on round trips to gather drinking water for their families and cattle. And during particularly dry summers, they had to hike even further.
When the water shortages got dire, water had be hauled in by tanker truck, which was time-consuming and expensive. They urgently needed a solution to their water problem, especially since climate change was likely to make the task of finding drinking water even harder.
Luckily, their unique climate offered them a potential solution.
There is a lot of fog in this area of southwestern Morocco because of some interesting meteorological phenomena.
There is a large, stationary high-pressure system (called the Azores anticyclone) that circulates air off the coast of Morocco over a cold-water current from the Canary Islands. This causes air to pick up moisture and form clouds — specifically statocumulus clouds, which are low-lying and full of water. Wind then pushes these clouds from the coast toward the Anti-Atlas mountains, but since these mountains are high and colder than the coast, they form a natural barrier — trapping the clouds and forming fog against the mountainsides.
This means that while there is very little rain on these mountains, there is a lot of thick fog, which, thanks to some new green technology, can be harnessed and turned directly into drinking water.
Dar Si Hmad, a women-led NGO in Morocco, designed and installed a fog-water harvesting system — the largest in the world to date — on the summit of one of these foggy mountains, Mount Boutmezguida.
The way fog-harvesting works is actually fairly simple: On the summit of Boutmezguida, high above the villages, finely meshed panels — or nets — were installed.
When wind pushes fog through the specialized mesh, water droplets are trapped. They then condense and fall into a container that collects the water below the nets. This water flows downhill in pipes to reservoirs, where it can be stored until it is needed.
From those reservoirs, the water is piped directly to the villages and individual households. So far, this project in Morocco has provided running water to 92 households, or nearly 400 people, most of them women and children.
The best part? Fog water is pure, free from any contaminants and pollutants, so it can be used for drinking water without any treatment.
This makes fog-catching an incredibly affordable, efficient and environmentally friendly way to harvest drinking water, and it can be used in other places where there are few or no viable means to access water.
Dar Si Hmad’s project was awarded a United Nations Climate Change prize in 2016, and there are already plans to extend the fog-catching system to other villages and parts of Morocco.
“Where there’s fog, we can harness it for the community, store it when it’s needed and use it later, instead of looking for very expensive and fossil-based solutions like desalinizing water, or digging more bore holes looking for even deeper aquifers,” Dr. Jamila Bargach, director of Dar Si Hmad, told CNN.
The technique could be used in other parts of the world, as well. In fact, FogQuest, a Canadian nonprofit, has already set up fog-harvesting systems in South and Central America, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Where there is fog, this technology has the power to not only deliver clean water, but also to change people's lives — especially women and children — all over the world. And the technology will undoubtedly become more important in the future as droughts and climate change affect water supplies globally.