Drinking the mist

The world’s largest functioning fog collection project in Morocco is providing water to villages facing an increasing shortage

SIDI IFNI, Morocco

‘I like fog a lot,” said Khadija Ghouate. And she has good reason to.

Growing up on Mount Boutmezguida in southwest Morocco on the edge of the Sahara desert, the fog enveloping the nearby peaks has changed her life.

For hours every day and often before sunrise, Ghouate and other women from nearby villages would walk 5km (3 miles) to fetch water from open wells, with girls pulled out of school to help and at risk of violence on the lonely treks.

But with groundwater levels dropping due to overuse, drought and climate change, the challenge to get enough water daily was becoming harder, and almost half of people in the local area sold up and quit rural life for the city.

As the future of the traditional Berber region by Mount Boutmezguida floundered, a mathematician whose family came from the area had a eureka moment gleaned from living overseas — using fog to make water.

Now Ghouate’s village is connected to the world’s largest functioning fog collection project, with state-of-the-art equipment, setting an example for other projects globally.

“You always had to go to the wells, always be there, mornings, evenings,” said Ghouate, a mother-of-three, as she prepared lunch for her family, showing off the tap in her home. “But now water has arrived in our house.”

The project, running since 2015 after nine years of surveys and tests, was founded by the Moroccan non-government organisation Dar Si Hmad, which works to promote and preserve local culture, history, and heritage.

It was the brainchild of mathematician and businessman Aissa Derhem whose parents were originally from Mount Boutmezguida where the slopes are covered in mist on average 130 days a year.

Derhem first came across fog collection when he learnt of one of the world’s first projects — in Chile’s Atacama Desert — while he living in Canada in the 1980s studying for his PhD.

But it was not until visiting his parents’ village years later that he realised the mountainous location, situated at the edge of the Sahara and about 35km (22 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean, was perfect for fog.

Challenges too

The principles behind fog collection are simple, and throughout nature examples exist of creatures capturing moisture from the air in the most arid conditions, ranging from beetles in the Namib Desert to lizards in the Australian outback.

But creating a water collection project on a large scale comes with challenges, as the research and development, as well as the infrastructure and technology involved in expanding and developing fog collection projects, can be costly.

Pilot project

The project at Mount Boutmezguida, however, has been a trailblazer for other projects due to its equipment, according to its founders.

The original nets used were insufficiently resistant to the high winds and tore but a partnership with the German non-profit WaterFoundation allowed Dar Si Hmad to develop a stronger net.

The initial pilot project served five villages. At present, the 870 square metres of nets installed reach about 140 families — 14 villages — while a second set of nets is being built.

Mohamed Zabour, president of the local municipality, said more than 60 per cent of the inhabitants of the region live without running water in their homes.

Between 2004 and 2014, 2,000 of the 5,000 local residents moved to cities.

“Our region is rich but it needs infrastructure. And water is one of the priorities,” said Zabour.

“If we don’t find a solution in the next 10 years, it’s going to be a catastrophe … It’s going to be like a desert. Empty.”

— Thomson Reuters 


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