Fog Catchers Bring Water to Parched Villages

July 9, 2009

When people from rural Peru move to Lima, the capital, they're looking for a better life. But things can be tough.

It's hard to find a job in the city. The jobs they can get—bus driver, street vendor, construction worker—don't pay well.

And the cheapest area to live is high on steep hills on the edge of the city, where landslides are common and water is scarce.

German conservationists and biologists Kai Tiedemann and Anne Lummerich, who run Alimón, a small nonprofit that supports Latin American development, are trying to help with the last of those problems. Since 2006 they've been working with new settlements on the outskirts of Lima to set up special nets that scoop water directly from the air.

(See pictures of the fog-catching nets in Peru.)

Rain rarely falls on these dry hills. The annual precipitation in Lima is about half an inch (1.5 centimeters), and the city gets its water from far-off Andean lakes.

But every winter, from June to November, dense fog sweeps in from the Pacific Ocean.

With a few thousand dollars and some volunteer labor, a village can set up fog-collecting nets that gather hundreds of gallons of water a day—without a single drop of rain falling.

Ancient Technique, Modern Salvation?

As far back as 2,000 years ago, desert villages and other rain-starved communities around the world may have started harvesting fog that collected as water and dripped from trees, said Robert Schemenauer, executive director of FogQuest, a Canadian nonprofit organization that helps communities set up simple collection devices.

Serious work on collecting fog started about a hundred years ago. Since then, fog catchers have been used successfully—though on a small scale—all over the world.

Fog collection will never be practical on a large scale. "You aren't going to put up thousands of fog collectors and try to provide water to Los Angeles," Schemenauer said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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