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Fog Catching in a Peruvian Slum


by  Luis Jaime Cisneros

12 Nov 2009 . Lima . Peru

In sprawling settlements like Bellavista del Paraiso - a dusty clutch of streets on Lima's south end named "Beautiful View of Paradise" with eye-popping optimism - there is no running water. Neither is there a well.

 

A Lima shanty town is using 'fogcatchers' as a source of

water Photo: AFP

 

Buying water, which has been trucked in, costs nine times what it does in richer urban areas, precisely in places where no one can afford it.


And Bellavista's more than 200 residents are used to making do without water; in fact, a jaw-dropping 1.3 million of Lima's eight million people have no access to water.


"Really, it just seemed like it would be impossible to catch fog with plastic netting, and that it would turn into drops of water," said Noe Neira Tocto, the mayor of the slum, which lies just inland from the Pacific.

 


"We are the very first to have fog-catchers in Lima's poor neighborhoods," he said, proudly showing off a system that works with a net that looks a lot like volleyball netting.


"We have five panels that are eight metres by four metres (26 feet by 13 feet)," perched on the mountaintop above, he explained. "With them we are able to collect up to 60 litres per night in wintertime."


Each panel costs the equivalent of $800 (362), added the 37-year-old Neira.


When the netting traps the fog, water droplets run down it into a small aluminum gutter on the panel's edge. Water keeps collecting until it runs - aided by gravity and drainage canals - down to cement storage tanks that lie halfway down the local hill. The benefits are many and varied.


Some of the water is channeled to a vegetable garden where food and spices are grown.


Most, though, is kept in ground-level storage tanks for residents to use at home for cooking, cleaning and bathing.


Olga Arce is in charge of popping water-purifying pills into the tanks, mainly to keep out mosquitos, which can spread dengue fever.


The system was invented by two German biologists, Anne Lummerich and Kai Tiedemann, who worked with Alimon, the German NGO, recalled Neira. The two arrived in Bellavista in 2006, were surprised how dense the fog was, and encouraged locals to see if they might be able to tap the fog to improve their lives.


They helped with the system's construction and installation and stayed a few months teaching locals how to run it before heading home.


They called it a "green desert" experiment, and after running for a single day it looked like a success. Some were disappointed at having to use purifying tablets, though.


But it is not all easy-going: locals have to trudge up the mountain at least twice a week to check on the state of the nets.


It is a steep and slippery path. At 5am, the time for one recent outing, visibility was near zero at the hilltop, 600 metres above sea level.


But it is worth the work, said Olga Cajahuaman. She said that she grows radishes, greens and spices "with the fog water". The water and food supplies are heaven-sent for families earning under $200 a month.


Alain Gioda, a French hydrologist, said that fog-catching recalls an ancient Inca technique in which plants and trees - not nets - were used to gather water here, collected at the base of the tree or plant.


"But what was possible with those techniques and an [Inca] empire of eight million is not possible on a current scale of a country of 28 million people," he added.
 



A local is seen near a net used to catch water from

fog at Bellavista el Paraiso shantytown in Lima.

 

When the netting traps the fog, water droplets run down it into a small aluminum gutter on the panel's edge. Water keeps collecting until it runs -- aided by gravity and drain canals -- down to cement storage tanks that lie halfway down the local hill.
 

 

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