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Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development in Ifni, Morocco

Communities in arid and semi-arid regions struggle to access sufficient supplies of fresh water for domestic and agricultural needs. Now, in some coastal regions and areas adjacent to coasts, fog water harvesting is emerging as an alternative source of water. The first large-scale application of this technique was in Chile in the late 1980s [1]. Since then, countries such as Morocco, Namibia, Croatia, Nepal, Yemen and Peru have experimented with harvesting fog to provide water to communities on a permanent basis.

Fog collection involves setting up mesh screens to trap fog water droplets, which condense on the nets and drip down to containers below. According to FogQuest, a volunteer organization that implements fog collection, rainwater collection and other water projects for rural communities in developing countries, fog water meets World Health Organization drinking water standards because the nets are usually set up in remote locations with few sources of contamination. However, as in all other water sources, necessary precautions need to be taken to ensure the water remains potable.

In 2006, the Foundation Si Hmad Derhem, Dar Si-Hmad and the Geography Department at the University of La Laguna initiated a project to study the viability of fog collection in Ifni, a region located on the Atlantic coast of Morocco across from the Canary Islands. Most of Ifni’s limited precipitation falls between November and February, with the rest of the year — especially the summer — experiencing low precipitation coupled with cloudiness and high humidity levels. Ifni experiences a high number of fog days because of its location between the Atlantic Ocean and the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Trade winds that are driven by the Atlantic anticyclone bring in thick layers of stratocumulus clouds and humid tropical air, which cools as it flows over the cold water of the Canary sea current and condenses to fog as it is channeled across Ifni’s terrain [2]. Initially, two sites were chosen — one coastal (Boulaalam), and the second (Boutmezguida) 30 km inland — to explore the possibility of fog collection in Ifni. Following preliminary trials, the coastal site was abandoned in favor of the inland location because it had higher water outputs.

Ifni’s local economy is based on fishing, agriculture and animal farming — activities that are water intensive. The water scarcity is more pronounced in the rural areas where there are no water services and residents acquire their water from public wells and private cisterns that collect rainwater. During the dry months when wells and/or cisterns are empty, residents are forced to buy water at unaffordable prices or to move their animals, and sometimes families, to regions that have sufficient water for their needs. The migration of young adult males to main urban centers in Morocco or Spain in search of employment has left the rural villages in Ifni with a disproportionate share of females, children and the elderly. As a result of the emigration, and cultural practices, the burden of collecting water falls heavily on women and children, who sometimes have to walk long distances in search of water [2]. This sometimes robs women and children the opportunity to participate in income generating activities or to attend school.

While fog collection is clearly suitable and necessary for this part of Morocco, the existing project involves more than just setting up nets to trap fog. The team works to understand social dynamics within the targeted villages to determine communities’ needs and desire to participate in the project, available resources and gender issues. It also investigates how the proposed systems can be sustained in the long term, and using what funds and forms of participation from the local communities. Moreover, the initiative also supports local cooperatives that produce oil from the Argania spinosa, a tree found only in this part of the world, and prickly pears, both of which are labor-intensive activities.

This summer, the Energy Forum is sending interns to Ifni, Morocco, to assist with additional engineering studies of fog collection tests at Boutmezguida. In addition, the students will also attend planning sessions with the oil-producing cooperatives. This internship allows students to participate in finding solutions to sustainable development problems in developing countries. It also ties in well with the themes that the students explored this semester in the Rice University course “Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development,” which is sponsored by the Energy Forum, the Center for Civic Engagement and Rice 360°.

[1] Schemenauer, Robert S. and Pilar Cereceda. “Fog-water Collection in Arid Coastal Locations,” Ambio, Vol.20, No.7 (1991): 303-308

[2] Marzol, Maria Victoria and José Luís Sánchez Megía. “Fog Water Harvesting in Ifni, Morocco: An Assessment of Potential and Demand,” Die Erde, Vol 139, No. 1-2 (2008): 97-119

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