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The women who tamed the mist to quench the thirst of the Berbers

The women who tamed the mist to quench the thirst of the Berbers

By Adeline Marcos

In the mountains of southwestern Morocco, in a very arid area bordering the Sahara desert, the scarcity of water puts limits on life. Every day many Berber women walk up to four hours through these dry lands to collect this precious commodity in the deep wells. They load the donkeys with about 30 liters, enough to supply their families with drinking water, cook and water the cattle. But sometimes they don't get more than five liters.

Jamila Bargach is well aware of the effort involved in undertaking this path every morning for these Amazig women, especially in an area where the already endemic drought has increased in frequency and intensity since the 1980s due to the increasingly marked absence of rain.

For this reason, this Moroccan anthropologist, a native of the region, wanted to change the destiny of the women of the Ait Baamrane people, considered the guardians of this vital resource called water. The answer would be found very close, in the thick layer of clouds that cover these mountains for an average of 143 days a year.

"We had to find an adapted solution and not look for it in desalination or digging more underground wells," he tells Sinc Bargach at the Climate Summit in Marrakech, not far from his desert land. The recurring fog that covers these mountain villages thanks to the Saharan wind - called Chergui - that blows so often there would be key to providing drinking water to the communities.

Ancient Canarian wisdom to collect water

Based on a very old technique used in the Canary Islands, which share the same atmospheric phenomena with southern Morocco due to their proximity, Bargach applied a method with meshes to collect water from the mist, a system that is also applied in other regions of the world.

But he could not achieve it without the help of María Victoria Marzol, a geographer from the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, who has been working on these systems since 1996 and whom he met after a long search for scientific studies. Together they spent four years of observations to obtain positive results.

“What we do is imitate nature. There are testimonies from the 16th century that tell us that the first settlers of El Hierro collected the water that dripped from the trees and then used it, on an island where there is very little rain and they have always had water problems, ”he tells Sinc Marzol.

After the experimental period and thanks to obtaining funds from the Government of the Canary Islands, they managed to install 12 m2 polypropylene meshes through the NGO Dar Si Hmad on an area of ​​600 m2 on Mount Boutmezguida, at an altitude of more than 1,200 meters. , to catch the mist that passes through them and collect their water. Each square meter of net captures about ten liters of water.

"Then it is stored, filtered and supplied through pipes in a steep terrain to the homes so that women can regain their time and have more opportunities", details the anthropologist, an active defender of equality and access to resources.

In total, five villages and some 500 people benefit from this pilot project in an area, to which Bargach feels very close but which is already suffering the consequences of climate change and is experiencing migration to cities.

The mist, once feared, is now a precious commodity

But the beginnings were not easy. "Fog is always considered as an obstacle that does not bring benefits and not as a resource", explains Bargach, who had to achieve a change of mentality in the population. "The fog is not what prevents the rain from coming, it is an opportunity." But the fact that the organization is originally from that same region has been a great help.

The system has been such an important benefit for these populations that it has received recognition from the United Nations. The project has been one of the winners of the UN Climate Change Award Momentum for Change, which rewards local initiatives that drive change. COP22 in Marrakech served as the stage for the delivery ceremony this week, which was attended by Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General.

After the success, the project aims to move forward and reach more villages. In fact, in January 2017 the installation of 15 new meshes - called CloudFisher, fisherwomen of clouds - begins, thanks to the investment of the German association Wasserstiftung, which will distribute water to 13 villages and will cover an area of ​​1,600 m2. Marzol, director of the Department of Geography and History at the ULL, took advantage of her visit to COP22 to decide on her orientation with the German technicians.

"The new structures will not need maintenance, they will be much more resistant, they will not break with the wind and they will triple the volume of water obtained", the anthropologist details. The new system will thus allow to collect up to 22 liters per square meter of network.

Despite the improvement, for Marzol the main limitation of this system is the cost, "not only of the meshes but also of the channeling and storage of that water," he emphasizes to Sinc. The good news is that the system is viable "" in all places where there are advection fogs close to a population thirsty for water ", he details.

Power to women against climate change

The Bargach and Marzol initiative involves much more than supplying water to these Berber villages; It also enables women to be empowered, an issue much discussed in the negotiations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and which is included for the first time in the Paris Agreement.

"Women suffer much more from the effects of climate change, but they are not in the spheres of decision", denounces Bargach. "And this must change." In Marrakech, work has been done along these lines and some steps have been taken in the right direction because ultimately fighting for equity is also fighting climate change.

“Climate change affects us all but not in the same way. Women are more vulnerable. The answer can only be effective if the decisions are listened to. With gender equality we will see results ”, stressed in a ceremony held this week at the Climate Summit Julie Bishop, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Jamila Bargach's initiative, along with that of the other winners, takes on special interest in the celebration of COP22, which seeks to launch the Paris Agreement. The document called for gender equality and the empowerment of women to achieve accelerated decarbonization. Small actions at the local level can be part of the solution.

“Women can be the key to change and energy transition at the local level. But they have to be part of the negotiations. Without women this will not fly ”, Liliane Ploumen, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, pointed out at the same conference.

For all those gathered in Marrakech, the participation of women is not a question of ideologies and rights, "it is that it will not be achieved without their commitment." Jamila's walk in the clouds, who is called the 'queen of the mist', points the way.

Photo: Berber women travel miles every day to bring water to their villages. They suffer much more than men from the effects of climate change. Image: David Rosen

SINC Agency

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Video: History of The Berber People (May 2021).