Fog-nets in Eritrea
Schoolchildren drink water collected by fog-nets

Fog-net project discontinued

The aim of this project, which was carried out in collaboration with the Water Foundation Ebenhausen and terminated in the summer of 2008, was to supply the villages of the Eritrean highlands with water collected from fog. The technology used to achieve this objective worked perfectly well. However, in spite of the project’s success and the continued need for clean water in the area, conditions in the country currently prevent any further expansion of the project.

Review

In early 2005, our local partner organisation Vision Eritrea set up several 1m2 trial water collectors in the villages of Nefasit and Arberobue near the capital city of Asmara. This work was carried out under the watchful supervision of FogQuest, the Canadian company that developed fog-net technology. The trial collectors were set up to provide data on water yields, which would then serve as the basis for deciding where to locate the operational 40m2 fog-nets. After some lengthy delays, ten collectors with cisterns were set up in the period between April and August 2007.

Progress despite the obstacles

Since the 2007/2008 fog season, the two locations have provided clean water for 2,500 schoolchildren and 120 families. In the first eight months, some 800,000 litres of water  was collected in the cisterns, even more than originally anticipated. Any overflow water is used to irrigate small vegetable gardens

The pilot project demonstrated that fog-net technology works very well in the Eritrean highlands. However, it was a hard-fought success that required a great deal of patience from all involved. There were repeated problems with supplies, installation, maintenance and local officialdom. Although the project enjoys the full support of various government organisations, representatives of FogQuest, the Water Foundation and the Munich Re Foundation sometimes had to wait months for their visas to be issued. Without these travel papers, which can only be obtained locally, project staff were not allowed to leave the capital to travel to the villages. This was the main reason for the sheer endless delays.

Eritrea has suffered from severe inflation since 2005 and the supply situation became particularly acute in 2007. Materials that had to be imported sometimes remained in customs for months on end. Vehicles and fuel needed to transport the materials were very hard to come by. Consequently, the costs per collector ended up almost twice as high as for similar projects in South America – only 20 of the 40 collectors originally planned could be built. 

Steep slopes and strong winds also made installation of the nets more difficult than expected. Some nets were damaged after a very short time in operation. The good news is that Vision Eritrea has learned a lot from these problems, especially that the nets are fairly easy to repair. Should the project be resumed, the lessons learned will certainly make it easier to set up more fog-nets in a much shorter time.

Various German laboratories were asked to conduct a chemical analysis of the water to establish its quality. The tests revealed that the water contains sufficient minerals but that more needs to be done to ensure that pipes and tanks are kept clean. These lab findings reiterate the view of the project partners that maintenance of the installations is still a long way from being fully reliable. This is not surprising considering the fact that important contacts in the villages seem to have disappeared without trace.

However, ours is not the only project to have experienced problems in Eritrea. The GTZ, the operational arm of the German Ministry for Development and Cooperation, closed its Eritrea office in late 2007, citing the difficult situation in the country as the reason. The closure also marked the end of GTZ’s important water projects in Eritrea.

Where do we go from here?

Experts in Eritrea and the Eritrean government estimate that there are some 800,000  people in the country that could benefit from fog-harvesting technology. In the next few months, the Water Foundation will continue to monitor the installed systems through its partner Vision Eritrea and will work on improving maintenance and eliminating problems. The Technical University of Munich is also currently evaluating the project works in progress. However, the political and economic situation in the country simply makes it impossible for us to build further fog-nets at a reasonable level of cost and resources.

Despite the obstacles set before us, the fog-net project met with a very enthusiastic response from many people. Should the situation in the country change for the better, the Munich Re Foundation would not hesitate to resume its commitment to this project. The people in the highlands of Eritrea need water.

5 September 2008