Increasing access to clean water
Using an innovative fog catching system, students have increased access to clean and affordable water for a community in the Atlas Mountains.
You may think nothing of reaching for a drink of water. But for people living in areas where clean water is scarce, the risk is more than just thirst. A lack of access to clean water is often accompanied by issues such as poverty, disease and environmental degradation.
Through Project Fog Catcher, University of Edinburgh students have helped to provide access to clean water and offer long-lasting community benefits using an innovative fog catching system and a sustainable plan involving local people.
In March 2017, members of the student-run social enterprise Enactus Edinburgh received an alumni-funded grant to deliver their Fog Catcher project in the Amtil community in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. The location was chosen as the humid climate there means that the fog catchers would be especially effective at capturing condensation.
With help from a local charity called ATED, two local beneficiaries were chosen to become fog catching entrepreneurs. Edinburgh students Ines El-Saui and Sabina Ali taught the local entrepreneurs how to build and maintain the fog catching systems using locally sourced materials. Ines studies Social Anthropology with Development and Sabina is a Philosophy and Psychology student.
Each fog catcher can provide on average 200 litres of water per day, which means that all 30 households in the community now have access to clean and safe water, which they previously lacked.
How fog catchers work
The systems extract fog from the atmosphere through condensation. Water is captured on a mesh and passed through a custom-built filtering system, converting it into clean water, which can be used for drinking, washing, farming and agriculture.
The students tested three types of mesh to find out which would be the most efficient (pictured left to right in the photo above):
- Ultraviolet (UV) protected loose polypropylene mesh, double layered - same as what fishing nets and the orange bags citrus fruits are put in
- Polypropylene mesh, similar to first one but has larger holes and thicker knit - similar to football goal nets
- Polyester netting, small holes - similar to mosquito nets
The most efficient net was the first one due to the small holes and the knots in the intersecting lines of the netting. The least efficient was the last one as it took longer for the water to fall from the net and collect onto the gutter. All of the nets can be reused and are easily available and affordable in Morocco.
Clean water at an affordable price
The two local entrepreneurs are now selling the water collected in their community at just one thirtieth (3.3%) of what locals previously had to pay. The water provided by the fog catchers costs about 6p per litre, while the water provided by private companies costs around 180p per litre.
Ines explains, “The reason the price is so high is that the private companies have a complete monopoly over the area - there are no other alternatives for local people to access water apart from the dirty rivers that they have to walk to, so companies take advantage of that. But because of the poverty in the area, there isn't really a market for the water they sell so they increase the prices to make up for the lack of buyers.”
Some of the water profits are used to maintain the fog catching systems.
The Fog Catcher project was supported by an Innovation Initiative Grant thanks to alumni donations to the Edinburgh Fund. IIGs support teaching, research and student experience at the University.
A grant of £3000 enabled the two students to travel to and stay in Morocco, buy the materials for six fog catchers and one prototype, purchase 12 water tanks (two for each fog catcher) and print materials for training workshops for the local beneficiaries.
Ines has since joined the student caller team raising money for the Edinburgh Fund and enjoys telling alumni about her own experiences of the impact of their donations.
“It really wouldn’t have been possible to implement the project without the support of the Innovation Initiative Grant and its donors so we are incredibly grateful!"
The students now plan to partner with a charity in Gogane, Nepal, and work with six local women to implement a similar project by April 2018.
Student Experience Grants replaced Innovation Initiative Grants (IIG) in summer 2018.
Enactus Edinburgh (external link)