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Alex Stockwell

Discover the new low-tech solutions to the water crisis in the developing world

Here on Clique, we usually discuss silicon-based technology, but every now and then, we come across other examples of innovation that are just too good to keep to ourselves.

On the back of the UN’s 10 year program ‘Water For Life‘, it is now apparent just how serious a problem water scarcity – both manmade and natural – is for a high percentage of the world’s population.

According to the findings, a massive 1.2 billion people live in areas where there simply isn’t enough water for drinking or agriculture, and 750 million people globally don’t even have access to safe drinking water whatsoever.

Additionally, around a quarter of the world’s population faces economic water shortage because their country lacks the necessary infrastructure to sufficiently distribute water from rivers and aquifers.

Despite there being an abundance of freshwater on the planet, the problem is adequately distributing it in an even, sustainable and economically feasible way.

So, in the face of dire circumstances, mankind once again flexes the innate impulse for innovation, with some people using low-tech ingenuity to help tackle the issue head on.

The Fog Catchers of Peña Blanca

A recent CNN report highlighted a clever, low-tech technique for obtaining sustainable freshwater in an area where the lack of rainfall is a serious problem.

Peña Blanca is a small agricultural community 300km north of the Chilean capital, Santiago, and it is here where the locals have been using an inexpensive and clean water-catching technique that was first pioneered in Chile back in the 1950s.

By making use of the ‘Camanchaca’ – the dense costal fog that slowly surges over the landscape – the townsfolk are using large mesh nets named ‘fog catchers’. The nets are made from a fine polypropylene mesh that is hung up high between two poles in order to harvest the incoming fog, which condenses as water droplets and trickles down into storage tanks below.

What makes this so ingenious is that atmospheric water captured this way meets World Health Organization standards as it doesn’t contain harmful micro-organisms and can immediately be used for irrigation purposes. And as a double-bonus, it also serves the town’s small artisanal brewery.

The Latin Post, who also recently covered the story, highlighted the encouraging figures that demonstrate how effective this technique is. Apparently, by cleverly exploiting this natural source, one-hundred and forty square meters of these nets can harvest on average 840 liters of fresh, drinkable water per day.

The technique is identical to the one used for the Dar Si Hmad project in Morocco, where larger nets give aid to around 1,300 local people. The success of which has led to reverse migration, where people no longer have to leave a region due to water scarcity.

High demand for low-tech wonders

It is a testament to mankind’s tenacity and ingenuity when people develop low-cost means to tackle some of our global society’s toughest challenges. The fog harvesting technique is one of a number of other similar ideas out there that aims to improve the lives of those in need through some clever bit of innovation.

Take Lifestraw, for example, a popular tool for hikers and backpackers, is also being used in humanitarian efforts worldwide. The low-tech (albeit somewhat undignified) marvel is a pocket-sized plastic straw that can be used to drink contaminated water, removing 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria. Each Lifestraw is capable of filtering 1,000 liters of water, which can sustain a family of four for three years.

And then we have the Hippo Roller, an award-winning piece of tech developed to help the daily struggle of transporting water from the source to where it’s needed. Essentially an all-terrain water barrel, the Hippo Roller makes light work of moving 90kg of water across uneven surfaces, and has a lifespan of up to years.

In a future of uncertain environmental changes, it’s encouraging to know a touch of innovation here and there can help make a difference to those in need.

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