Silver Lining

How Peru’s poorest are solving their water woes

01 April 2017
Atrapanieblas, or fog catchers, are large nylon nets that collect dew, held up vertically by bamboo poles. Channels placed under the nets transport the water into storage containers that then deliver water directly to people’s homes through pipes.
MIRKO CECCHI

On one of the hills on the outskirts of Lima, the capital of Peru, stands an installation by the artist Sandra Nakamura, inspired by the United States’s Hollywood Sign. The large letters of the work say, “UNA PROMESA ES UNA NUBE,” or “A promise is a cloud”—a reference to an Arabic proverb: “A promise is a cloud; the fulfilment is the rain.”

The sign’s full import, though, would be lost on those unfamiliar with Lima’s socio-economic realities. The majority of the city’s urban poor live on its fringes, in slums scattered across the hills above Lima. These localities—called asentamientos humanos, or human settlements—are barely fit for humans. With clouds covering the hills, the settlements are enveloped by fog for most of the year. They have few roads, no property titles for people’s homes and, most importantly, no running water. For people’s daily needs, the Lima municipality’s tanker trucks deliver water, which can be five times more expensive than the running water supplied to more affluent areas. The only other source is the polluted Lurin river, whose water must be boiled before consumption.

But, over the past few years, people living in these hills have found an unusual solution. They harvest the fog surrounding their homes by using atrapanieblas, or fog catchers—large nylon nets that collect dew, held up vertically by bamboo poles. Channels placed under the nets transport the water into storage containers that then deliver water directly to people’s homes through pipes. This water is not potable, but people use it for washing, cleaning and irrigation. Though similar techniques have been used in other countries, including Israel and Chile, in Peru, fog harvesting has become a movement which is called Peruanos Sin Agua, or Peruvians Without Water. People all over the country are installing atrapanieblas to solve problems of water scarcity.

Claudia Bellante is an independent Italian journalist who reports on social issues in Latin America. She collaborates with several magazines across the world, including Internazionale in Italy, Rhythms Monthly in Taiwan, and Marie Claire and El País in Spain.

Keywords: climate peru Water Scarcity water Urban Poor Lima
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