(UR) Chile — Fog collection for a small brewery in the middle of Chile’s Atacama Desert may provide more than just a frosty, tall glass of locally sourced beer to residents in the Coquimbo region, where water is as valuable as gold. Researchers have placed huge canvas nets across the landscape in order to collect a wall of dense fog that comes in from the Pacific Coast for a multitude of purposes — including possibly providing water to residents in a place that is described as ‘aggressively inhospitable.’
The Atacama is known as the driest place on earth. If water can be harvested there, it could literally be harvested anywhere.
Fog or dew collection is an ancient practice. Archaeologists have found evidence in Israel of low circular walls that were built around plants and vines to collect moisture from condensation. In Egypt, piles of stones were once arranged so that condensation could trickle down the inside walls, where it was collected and then stored. The renewed application of this technique, however, comes at a time when 783 million people are without potable water, and 85 percent of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
Beer brewing, small scale agriculture, potable water for indigenous people in extremely arid climates — the list of possibilities for fog collection is endless, and the collection of water from an unlikely source is already underway. Over 1,000 liters of water a day are collected from huge nets that resemble a fisherman’s, but which are littered across the desert like an art collector’s display. Water droplets collect on the nets and then trickle into pipes and collection containers. The water is either used directly or then treated if it is to be used for drinking water. Each window-sized device can collect 14 liters (3.7 gallons) of water daily.
The condensed mist comes into the Atacama Desert so ominously thick, that it has been named ‘the Darkness’ — and researchers didn’t want to see that water go to waste.
Camilo Del Rio, a researcher at the geography institute of Pontificia Universidad Católica in Santiago, believes the team’s fog harvesting techniques could solve the water shortages in many indigenous communities. Del Rio says that treating the collected water is easy and inexpensive. Many desert communities in Chile currently rely on water shipments from city tanker trucks, but the fog collection efforts could change these communities’ reliance on the city and give them more sovereignty over its environmental resources. In a world facing the escalating threat of water privatization, this becomes even more essential.
Nestlé’s Chairman of the Board, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, has explained his philosophy about the human right to water:
“The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.”
Fog harvesting systems, though, could be transplanted in places as diverse as California and Mumbai. Areas that have very little rainfall, but get fog and dew, would be prime candidates for the system. Millions of people, who currently don’t have access to it, could be givenclean drinking water.
If there’s enough water collected from fog-harvesting to brew beer in the Atacama, you can imagine the fantastic potential for addressing the world’s water needs.
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