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Fog water collectors on El Tofo mountain, Chile. Water from the fog condenses on these large nets.
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Courtesy of IDRC / CDRI; Photographer Sitoo Mukerji

Finding Water in the Sky

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth. The lack of water makes life hard, yet more than a million people live there. One place where people get the water they need to survive is from the sky.

Rain may be uncommon, but fog, called camanchaca by Chileans, often fills the sky in the Atacama near the coast. And fog is made of water. By extracting the water from the fog, some of the people who live in the Atacama Desert are able to get the water they need.

People there have been capturing water from fog for over a decade using screens that have very small mesh. The water in the fog condenses on the screens and drips into troughs below. Pipes carry the water to where it will be used. The first project collecting water with screens was installed on Chile’s El Tofo Mountain in the early 1990s. The idea caught on and now there are fog collectors installed in 25 countries in Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

The people in the Atacama also have a much longer history of collecting water from the air. For hundreds of years, native people in the Andes harvested water from the air by capturing the morning dew. They dug pits into the ground to hold buckets and made funnels from branches to channel water into the buckets. Lids made of branches and leaves kept the water from evaporating. The trap was left overnight and the water collected in the morning after dew formed.

Last modified September 18, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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