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Mist-catchers in the coastal boarder of the Atacama Desert (Chile)


Titre : Mist-catchers in the coastal boarder of the Atacama Desert (Chile)

Experimental Area for Agriculture in Desert Areas Utilizing Water from the Atmosphere

Pays : Chili

Date : 1998-2000

In one of the most arid regions of the world, the Atacama Desert, in the north of Chile, there is a unique project being developed. The goal of this project is to improve the life condition of the local community whose lifestyle and subsistence was lost as a consequence of the pollution created by mining activities. Through the implementation and development of this and other similar projects, this project pretends to generate a model to use a natural resource characteristic of this region. It wants to use the coastal fog to improve the conditions of the soil and add an alternative against desertification. This idea was developed by a group of small fisherman from the Caletas community of Chañaral. They thought that in the after math of the disaster generated by the mining companies, which destroyed their main source of subsistence and income, it was necessary to develop economic alternatives and capture water from the fog in the coastal area of the Atacama Desert. With assistance from the Institute for Geography of the Catholic University (CU), the fisherman made a two-year study (1998-2000). The goal of this study was to find out if it was possible to capture enough water for productive projects using the system known as atrapanieblas (mist-catcher). Thanks to the technical and administrative support of the Chañaral municipality as well as the financial support of the Australian and Canadian agencies, the group Atrapanielbas of Falda Verde, currently grows tomatoes in green houses as well plantations of aloe Vera. The sale of these products in the community is now generating a much-needed income. As part of this project, water from the mist-catchers is also used to provide drinking water to the tourist that visit the near by National Park Pan de Azúcar. With the goal of making this system known to others and generating some income from tourism, the members of this group built a path with resting areas. The path goes from the low lands where the plantations are, to the tip of the cliff where the mist-catchers that produce the water for the plantations are located.

The promoters of this initiative got in touch with different organisms to evaluate the feasibility of capturing water from the mist. This mist advances every day from the ocean until it covers the mountains about 5 kilometers north of Chañaral, and about 600 meters over the sea level. They developed the studies together with the Geography Institute of the Catholic University. The study focused on making projections to determine exactly what was the potential for capturing water and what was the best way to do it. During two years from 1998 to 2000, instruments were installed to measure systematically. The fishermen themselves made the testing. The methodology for monitoring is done using mist collectors (neblinómetros) of about 1 square meter. These are made of polyurethane nets and are installed 2 meters from the ground
After obtaining the hard data (daily, monthly and annual flow), and in consultation with the Municipality of Chañaral, the fisherman stared to develop the project and to look for funds. With all information on hand they presented the project to the Australian Embassy, and with their funding they built 6 mist-catchers, with an area of 264 m2, more than one kilometer of tubing and a fiber glass container to capture the more than 1.000 litters of water that are obtained daily from the coastal mist. The idea of slowly replacing small-scale fishing for another activity, materialized with the green house plantations of aloe Vera and tomatoes. The water captured provides water for these plantations and even at times it replaces the water truck that supplies the Chañaral and its surroundings. The place where the project is developed is on the way to Pan de Azúcar National Park, which offers water to tourist. This has made Falda Verde a new tourist spot, with a steady and permanent flow of people. This project has had a slow and permanent growth. Each of the six initial mist-catchers has a collecting area of 48 square meters and they are located over the cliff at 600 meters over the areas designated for agriculture. One pipeline takes water to the greenhouse located 100 meters over the sea level and then over the sand by the coastal boarder to greenhouse where the aloe Vera is cultivated.

Bénéficiaires : The direct beneficiaries are the 22 members of the Mist-catcher Group from Falda Verde and Atacama, as well as their families. All of them now have income from the touristic and agricultural activities that have been able to develop thanks to this project.

Porteur du projet : group Atrapanielbas of Falda Verde

Partenaire (s) : Institute for Geography of the Catholic University (CU), Chañaral municipality

Financement : Financial support of the Australian and Canadian agencies


Page publiée le 4 juin 2019