Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Environment for Empowerment: Catching fog for capacity building

Yesterday, Dar Si Hmad kicked off a 16 Days Campaign in conjunction with the United Nations’ focus on violence against women, girls’ education, and human rights. The Days run from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Visiting Researcher Becca Farnum wrote a piece on violence against women in North Africa that featured Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting project. Today, we explore how Dar Si Hmad is engaging in capacity building training with Berber women in the southwest Moroccan countryside in more detail.

Rural villages in the Bled (Moroccan countryside) have not previously had access to potable water. Berber households would gather the limited rainwater in internal cisterns, but Morocco’s increasing drought conditions would require them to buy water, expensively delivered to cisterns via water trucks. Open wells around the countryside are used to water livestock. Those wells, many of them quite far from residences, are also where women would go collect water to supplement whatever little amount of rainwater they managed to collect. During the summer months, Morocco’s dry season, the water level is especially low and women have to get to the wells before sunrise if they want water. Walking often starts before 4am, and a woman may travel five kilometres to fill her buckets. Because many households rely on just a few wells, women have to take turns filling their containers. In between turns, everyone has to wait for the water table to rise again. Between the distance and the waiting at the well, this seemingly simple chore takes Berber women and children hours to complete.

There is drought in the area, but plenty of fog floats
over the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Aït Baamrane
The 380 villages in the Aït Baamrane region live in constant water stress, using only around eight litres of water per person each day. In Morocco’s urban cities, residents consume more than ten times that amount, around 85 litres per person per day. Dar Si Hmad’s founder, Dr Aissa Derhem, spent a great deal of his childhood in the Bled and saw his country’s vast inequalities in water access. He also saw the vast quantity of what Berbers call “dead water”, the fog that constantly drifts over the mountains, visible but previously useless to the villagers.


Fog harvesting uses nets to catch and collect
tiny water droplets from fog
In 1989 while living in Canada, Dr Derhem came across FogQuest, a non-governmental organization that builds on an ancient idea from the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands: capturing fog. The water droplets from fog can be caught in mesh or metal nets, condensing on the net’s material and dropping into collection troughs. Dr Derhem, knowing his homeland’s abundance of fog and the intense need, decided to pull together a team to try implementing fog harvesting in southwest Morocco.

An Amazigh woman turns on the tap in
her home to receive fog water. Photo credit: AFP
Today, Dar Si Hmad oversees twenty fog nets. The system provides around twelve cubic metres of water a day. A research team from Germany’s Wasserstiftung is experimenting at the collection project to find the most efficient kind of net. Soon, Dar Si Hmad will replace old mesh nets with the winning model to increase fog water yield even more. Currently, five villages in the Anti-Atlas Mountains have taps in their homes with access to clean water. Other villages will be targeted as production increases. The amount of water available in recipient villages has nearly tripled, with Berber households receiving some thirty litres per person per day. The completely pure water harvested from the fog is mixed with clean groundwater to mineralize it and boost production even further.

Many development projects focus on water. Ensuring access to clean water helps combat rates of water-born disease, especially among children. When more water is available, food supply and cooking becomes easier. Cleanliness and sanitation improves.

Many of these programs claim a gendered approach, assuming that women’s burdens will be eased when water is supplied. But it is important to remember that, in many water-scarce regions, women have a privileged ancestral role as water guardians. Serving as resource gatekeepers is a source of power for women. It may be one of the few ways women in villages can materially exert their agency. Water supply projects that do not take these considerations into account can inadvertently create harm, disrupting traditional gender norms and women’s habits without facilitating positive alternatives.

Dar Si Hmad surveyed families
in the Bled (Moroccan countryside)
before the fog project
Before starting the fog harvesting project, Dar Si Hmad conducted surveys in the villages to identify these concerns. That research has helped the organization to build attention to gendered issues and women’s empowerment into the program from its very beginnings.

Recognising that water has been a source of power for Berber women in village households, Dar Si Hmad worked to ensure women continue to have control over their water in the new fog system. Staff, volunteers, and international researchers led ICT trainings for the Berber women. For many of the villagers, it was their first time tackling literacy. With careful attention to the challenges but faith in the women’s abilities to overcome them, the program taught women how to text with their mobiles. Today, the women monitor their water system by reporting data and any problems via SMS message.

Berber women send texts to monitor the fog water system
Through the ICT reporting, Amazigh women have retained their status as water guardians while expanding their own literacy and capacities. Texting, writing, and basic numeracy has proven useful for much more than capturing fog data.

The fog harvesting project also creates a de facto equality of time between the sexes, as hours once spent walking to fill containers of water have been freed by the reliable taps. Women and children now have more hours in the day available for chores, education, and luxury. This enables more girls to stay in school into their teenage years. To ensure women are able to use the newfound time in ways of their choosing, Dar Si Hmad runs capacity building workshops in the villages.

Trained local facilitators work with the women to explore projects like agricultural co-operatives as routes to economic empowerment and personal satisfaction. Combined with the text message reporting systems, these workshops ensure that the power once held by women through water collection is replaced and expanded. Regular community consultations and village water committees flag issues to be addressed in the project’s continued implementation and expansion. 

Dar Si Hmad runs capacity building workshops in
recipient villages to help women consider agricultural co-ops
Through Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting project, what was once “dead water” to the Amazigh people is now bringing new life to the region. Through their sustained attention to women’s empowerment and community relations, Dar Si Hmad is harnessing fog for the future. It is these kinds of locally initiated, holistically informed development projects that are vital to the prevention of violence against women through continued empowerment and security for everyone.

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