BELLAVISTA DEL PARAISO ALTO, Peru (Reuters) - Catching fog with nets is the solution to water scarcity for people who live beyond the reach of utility lines in this sandy hillside shantytown overlooking Peru’s capital, Lima.
Lima, which along with Cairo is one of the world’s two driest capitals, gets only a few drops of rain each year. But thick fog from the Pacific Ocean blankets the coastal hills surrounding the city for eight months a year as hot tropical sun mixes with cold waters of the Humboldt current.
Using nets similar to those used in volleyball, residents condense fog, drip-by-drip, into drainage pipes running down the hill into tanks that store hundreds of liters of water for irrigation, bathing and cooking.
“Pure water from fog, can you believe it?” Noe Neira, Bellavista’s community leader said, as he dipped his hand into a brick tank filled to the rim. “There was so much water in the air and we didn’t know how take advantage of it.”
President Alan Garcia won the 2006 elections in part on a promise to deliver water to millions of impoverished Peruvians, though as he nears the end of his term, Lima’s long-term water problems are more vexing than ever.
Lima depends almost exclusively on glacial runoff for water. The United Nations, which has called March 22 World Water Day to raise awareness about shortages, says melting caused by warming in the Andes has already cut by 12 percent flows to the country’s arid coast, where two-thirds of the population lives.
That has left the government not only trying to lay more water mains to improve delivery, but also looking into installing desalination plants along the ocean or pumping water out of the Amazon basin to secure future supplies.
Even after a decade of booming economic growth, about a quarter of Peru’s city dwellers and half of its rural residents still lack access to working toilets and clean drinking water.
Bellavista is no different. Like most of Peru’s poor, the community gets its water from tanker trucks that sell it for two soles a barrel ($0.71), about 10 times more than what residents of Lima’s richest neighborhoods pay for tap water.
“We’re paying like millionaires for water,” Josefina Ortiz, a mother of three, said as she waited for a tanker truck outside her plywood home in San Juan de Miraflores, another slum far from Bellavista. “We’ll never be able to progress because of the lack of water.”
The nets in Bellavista, which were set up by biologists at German NGO Alimon e.v., turn fog into a viable alternative to end dependence on overpriced and often contaminated water from trucks.
“Sometimes trucks won’t come up here for days, so we store water from fog as a backup,” said Sandra Atusparia, who lives in Bellavista. “The only thing I regret is that we don’t have more tanks for storage.”
Though the netting system in Bellavista is rusty after just three years of use and it runs dry during Lima’s short fogless summers, poor residents dream of having the mayor net the hillsides surrounding the city.
“This whole area lacks water,” Abel Cruz, head of the group Peruanos Sin Agua (Peruvians Without Water) said, pointing to thousands of plywood homes with tin roofs built by squatters surrounding Lima. “But with 50 nets, we could supply them all,” he said of a series of shantytowns on Lima’s south side.
Reporting by Luis Andres Henao, Editing by Terry Wade