A foggy beach in Morocco, a country that harvests water from fog. Image credit: Bo Nielson
As water scarcity continues to grow into an ever-larger issue, many parts of the world are facing a different sort of problem: They no longer have conventional freshwater resources in the face of rising demand. But they do have water resources in unconventional forms.
But as the increasing dearth of freshwater resources continues to threaten billions of people around the world over migration, social unrest and conflict, experts are beginning to champion rethinking the planning of water resource management in a way that sees unconventional water resources creatively exploited for use.
A huge and ever-growing number of unconventional fresh water sources have already been identified, with desalination of seawater among them. Presently, there are an estimated 18,000 desalination facilities in over 100 countries around the world that are producing approximately 32 billion cubic metres of fresh water per year.
Roughly 44 per cent of desalinated water production around the world is in the Middle East and North Africa, with new facilities being constructed across Asia, Latin America, and the United States, and the capacity for desalination is also being increased accordingly, rising seven to nine per cent yearly on average. Moreover, as the technology also becomes more widespread, the cost of desalinated water is decreasing, going down to a tenth of the price seen a few decades ago.
Another alternative – and unconventional – source of fresh water is fog. In this, a vertical mesh would be used to catch the moisture in the air, with droplets of water running down to accumulate in a tank or distribution system. As fog is relatively common around the world, even turning up in areas considered dry and arid, systems that harvest fog for potable water can be cost-effective on top of practical.
Countries that have already turned their figurative hands to this include Cape Verde and Eritrea. Cape Verde is able to collect up to 12 litres of water per square meter a day during peak season, and in Eritrea a net measuring 1,600 square meters in length yields up to 12,000 litres of potable water daily. But the largest fog collection and distribution system is in Morocco, a country famous for its low water availability and bountiful fog.
Much like desalination, costs for fog harvesting are predicted to fall further as the market continues to grow. Moreover, the systems are simple, come with low running and maintenance costs, and management does not require skilled workers.
Governments need to start embracing water from unconventional sources, which though unexplored, spans a huge range. However, investment strategies, policies, and budgets would have to be updated in order to include them, knowledge and experienced shared, and innovations identified, tested, and implemented.
But before all these can even be begun, governments and decision-makers must first leave behind the assumption that unconventional water sources are impractical or too costly.