The foggy valleys of Mt. Boutmezguida were once seen as a cause of illness among residents. Now they are a sign of hope.
If you walk through the hill country around Mt. Boutmezguida in southern Morocco, you are bound to notice something unusual: Twenty tall mesh nets of 30 square meters each sparkling with water droplets. This is the image of harvesting clouds to combat desertification.
In a part of the Anti-Atlas Mountains where water is expensive, the average rainfall is only 132 millimeters yearly, and there are very few natural springs, reservoirs, rivers, or lakes, this engineering marvel is a sight to see.
An Ancient Practice
These marvels are cloud harvesting nets. An ancient practice from the Canary Islands, according to researcher Vicky Marzol, the harvesting technique constitutes the systematic collection of large water droplets, substantial enough to provide drinking and agricultural water for communities.
When the idea was brought into the Anti-Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco in 2000, initial recordings of the fog patterns on Mt. Boutmezguida were around 10.5 liters per square meter per day, a higher average than many other regions.
Hopeful that cloud harvesting could bring an end—or at least provide a salve—to the region’s frequent droughts, Dr. Aissa Derhem, a native of Ait Baamrane, founded Dar Si Hmad. Through this new non-profit, supporters slowly erected twenty mesh nets between the rolling hills of the Anti-Atlas.
How Cloud Harvesting Works
The region surrounding Mt. Boutmezguida has the perfect environmental conditions for cloud harvesting. Around 30 kilometers inland of Sidi Ifni, the mountain’s sloping sides catch water-heavy stratocumulus clouds formed by the anticyclone of the Assores and the cold current from the Canary Islands. These two wind patterns force the clouds into the mountains and into the water-harvesting nets.
Once in the nets, the water droplets form tiny rivulets that fall into a gutter at the base of the net. Once in the gutter, the water is pushed through a sand filtration system, through various piping, and into one of the seven large reservoirs made available to various communities around the mountain. Through this system, beneficiaries can harvest around 6,300 liters of water each day.
This fresh water offers not only a clean source of water, but is substantially cheaper than well water: In 2015, the price of installing a mesh net was around €2 per resident, and the total collection and use of water was around three times less expensive than total well water usage.
As climate change makes water collection, agriculture, and daily living more difficult in the southernmost parts of Morocco—the parts most vulnerable to desertification and loss of livelihoods from drought—communities are shrinking.
Researchers estimate that, between 1960 and 2018, the number of rural Moroccans has decreased from 65% to just 40% of the population.
The opportunities Dar Si Hmad is providing are not purely life-sustaining, they are economic and educational. According to the organization’s website: “Young men are now specialists in fog collection building and there are water committees in each village. Most importantly, we have worked with women to ensure that they maintain their privileged ancestral role as water guardians.”
The role of women as water guardians used to mean that women would walk four to five hours each day, usually before dawn, to draw water for their families, crops, and livestock. This time commitment contributed to decreased educational opportunities for women.
Now, as cloud harvesting is subsidizing families’ water use, women are empowered to pursue activities less related to water collection.
After the incorporation of cloud harvesting, the communities also report less degradation of the natural environment and fewer waterborne diseases among their young populations.
A Foggy Future
Due to the success of the first twenty cloud harvesting nets, Dar Si Hmad plans to expand its program to other parts of the Anti-Atlas basin.
The program will continuously provide young men with technical training, allowing these water-providing techniques to not only contribute to more fresh water, less water expense, more time for women, and less disease among children, but an outlet for economic growth among the youth population.
For the communities of Mt. Boutmezguida, the economic opportunity of their youth lessens the fears of encroaching desertification and extreme droughts. Continued water supplies also offer a more hopeful opportunity for a sustainable, and thus more prosperous, future.