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Peru finds new solution to an old problem

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 1:17 AM EST, Fri December 9, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Communities use "fog traps" in an arid land
  • The region is under heavy fog eight months a year
  • Nets trap the fog, condense it, and produce water right away

(CNN) -- In the unforgiving dry lands outside Lima a war against the desert is being waged with an unusual weapon. Where for years and years only parched land could be seen, patches of green have now appeared and roses are replacing some of the thorny desert plants.

That's where we find Alejandro Peña. The 66-year-old is a farmer in a land where farming would have been considered hopeless just a few years ago. "Our goal is to make these 74 hectares (183 acres) green. We want to make everything green," Peña says.

He says his community's goal is to bring some green to the barren mountains. The settlers believe they have just found the way to conquer the desert.

The "solution" has been installed only a few feet away. It's a rectangular net which measures roughly 20 feet wide by 13 feet high. In the morning, when fog makes its way up the desert mountains from the nearby ocean, the net "traps" it and condenses it, producing water right away. They call them "fog traps."

Because of its proximity to the sea, this region is under heavy fog eight months a year. The fog is normally blown away by the breeze without producing any rain, but these nets trap the moisture and condense it right away, hence the name.

Jimmy Sanchez, a Lima engineer who has been installing nets in several places, says the moisture traps have become important sources of water for people who live in the barren, desert mountains outside Lima. "These nets produce from three to five liters of water a day. That's enough to water four or five trees." Sanchez says.

In the community of Villa Maria del Triunfo, just outside the capital, the new moisture traps have been refreshing news to residents like Noe Neira, who's also a community leader. "During the summer we use water from the reservoir to keep the plants alive. Our goal is to eventually grow some trees that we may be able to export," Neira says.

The moisture traps have also been installed in the area known as Costa Verde or Green Coast. The hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean used to be a desolate place where nothing grew. Thanks to the water collected by the moisture traps, some small trees and shrubs have been planted and seem to be growing. The name of Costa Verde may at last be appropriate in this place.

The goal of Peruvians Without Water, a non-government organization that has been working with residents, is to install one hundred fog traps throughout the region. This would benefit 15,000 families who currently have no reliable source of water.

Abel Cruz is the president of Peruvians Without Water. He says the nets are just a first step in solving the water shortage in these communities. "We believe that this is an alternative. Water companies are not going to provide service here. They can't build a well or a reservoir because the cost would be too high. But using these nets we can capture moisture and eventually build reservoirs," Cruz says.

As effective as they are, these moisture traps are not a cure-all solution to the water problems of these communities in the outskirts of Lima. There's hardly any fog for four months of the year and residents depend on water trucks.

Settler Linda Zapata, a 23-year-old who lives with her family of four on a hillside, says she has to depend on water trucks for her family's basic needs. "We buy the water and try to make it last. We wash as little as we can to save. In my house we recycle kitchen water for the plants. We also recycle water to use in the bathroom," Zapata says.

Meanwhile, at Alejandro Peña's farm the dry season has arrived again. The good news is that his aloe plants are almost ready for harvesting. As for water, it's back to relying on trucks again. "The nets only help us in the winter when we have fog. It's all about the fog," Peña says.

Journalist Maria Elena Belaunde contributed to this report

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