Project visit to Morocco: The hard work was worthwhile!

Net constructions for 600 m2 of fog nets have been in place on Mount Boutmezguida in Morocco's Anti-Atlas mountains since autumn 2012. Their purpose is to supply the people in this arid mountain region with drinking water. In February 2013, we travelled to Morocco and visited the project area.

Under the project management of our partner organisation, Dar Si Hmad, the team of local helpers, water engineers and external fog-net experts has made significant progress: fog nets have been erected, supply pipelines leading to the valley installed, water tanks built and renewed. A lot of hard work on steep and rocky terrain. Jamila Bargach stands proudly beside the newly built public water point in the village of Sidi Zekri. She turns on the tap and clean, clear water flows out. It has covered a journey of many kilometres from the 1,225 m high peak of Mount Boutmezguida down into the valley. For the villagers, this new water point means a major improvement in quality of life, especially considering the fact that the women and girls had previously spent up to three and a half hours daily collecting drinking water from the sole spring in the region.  Jamila, project manager at Dar Si Hmad, explains, "Only part of this water is fog water. To test the almost seven-kilometre-long pipeline, it was necessary to feed tonnes of water from tank trucks into the system." And it has worked. "All the pipelines are watertight," says Jamila with a happy smile. The project team has now been working in the region around Boutmezguida since the summer of 2011, and is still struggling with new challenges. As an independent, non-profit organisation, Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture has been attending to sustainable development projects in the southwest region of Morocco for years.

The villages of Agni Zekri, Sidi Zekri and Agni are now connected to the supply
We are impressed. After the extensive tour of the entire project area, we now realise how difficult it is to carry out these fog net projects and anchor 20 huge fog nets at dizzying heights. During the journey on roads that were at times extremely steep, with sheer drop-offs, we made our first stop at the cistern located at an elevation of 666 m. It has been completely overhauled and tiled, and now serves as a large collecting and storage tank for the harvested fog water. A newly-built utilities room houses technical equipment. Children from the only primary school in the area play in front of their schoolhouse, right beside the cistern. The school also benefits from the fog net project: with the cistern, the teachers and pupils will always have access to drinking water in the future. This is very important in a region in which there has been practically no rain for over three years. Climate change is already making itself felt here too.

A water pipeline leads down the mountain through rocky ground from the cistern to the three villages of Agni Zekri, Sidi Zekri and Agni Ihya.  The team has dug small monitoring shafts into the ground at 100 m intervals. At these monitoring points, the speed of the water can be read and in case of a leakage, the pipeline can be closed off. In the run-up to the project, the water engineers simulated different potential problem scenarios  and the local helpers dug out the trenches during long weeks of hard labour. Jamila admits to us: "At times I really was not sure if we would manage it."

The fog nets work
We continue our ride to the top of Mount Boutmezguida. This is where the fog nets are installed. An impressive sight. Twenty double-net collectors, each with a net surface area of 30 m2, spread across the flank of the mountain directly below the peak, facing away from the sea. When thick fog rises from the Atlantic during the months of December through June, water drops are collected in the nets, flow into a collecting trough and then run through a pipeline directly into the first large collecting tank – on a good fog day, as many as 6,000 litres. Water is collected in the masonry water receptacle below the peak before being fed through a pipeline down to the tank in the valley and from there to the villages. "But", Jamila explains, "things still are not ready yet. We do not have the mesh material for about ten collectors, and the filter system must also still be financed, purchased and transported to the mountain top. After that the fog waters can flow down to the valley."

Jamila can nevertheless be very proud of what has been achieved so far. She and her team have worked very hard. With barely any technical equipment, they had to dig deep trenches in rock-hard ground for the many masts for the collectors and the anchoring poles for the tensioning cables. They have to constantly battle strong winds on the mountain peak. Jamila shows us a newly-fitted net that is already ripped in one corner. The tension on a windy day had apparently been too great. Whenever a net tears, it is soon completely broken. "The wind works against us, but we learn more and more every single day," she says. The success achieved so far is proving her right: the ten net collectors that are now fully functional have already filled the collecting tank several times.

The next steps
A number of tasks remain to be completed, and some issues still need to be resolved before the fog net project can be handed over to the water manager and person who will take full charge in future, Hussein, a young man from the village of Agni Ihya. Fog collectors must be finished and the filter system must be installed. There are plans to build a small technical monitoring station directly below the peak, where the operation of the fog collectors can be observed continuously. In the event of a problem, electronic error messages will be transmitted to the valley. The question of whether and how subsequent mineralisation of the fog water can be carried out will be resolved at a later stage. If the drinking water does not contain the requisite minerals, this can cause health impairments amongst the village population. There are ultimate plans to connect every private home in the three villages to the water supply lines: a luxury that the inhabitants hardly even dare to imagine today! However, final financing must still be clarified for this undertaking. "The fog net project will continue to keep us busy for quite a while," says Jamila, "but the hard work has been worth it and we will push on and soon be able to supply the villages in the region!"

26 March 2013


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