The rural community of Peña Blanca in Chile has been able to capture around 500,000 liters of water per year, thanks to the installation of fog nets on a hill called Cerro Grande. The nets, which were installed in cooperation with the Un Alto en el Desierto Foundation, cover 252 square meters and capture more than 1,500 liters of water daily. This has allowed the community to revive vegetation in the region and launch new businesses to improve their quality of life.
In addition to the fog nets, other initiatives in the region aim to make the most use of the less frequent rains, retain water for livestock, and prevent soil erosion and mudslides. However, the community states that these initiatives are pilot projects with no funding or political support to sustain them over the long term.
According to Chile's National Forest Corporation (CONAF), approximately 23% of the country's total area is at risk of desertification, and the Coquimbo region is the most affected area. The southern limit of the Atacama Desert was initially established along the Copiapó River, but as the desert expands south, this boundary has become more blurred.
Peña Blanca was once a thriving rural community, with a large portion of the land used for wheat farming. However, soil erosion, less frequent rains, and the import of cheaper wheat led to a decrease in economic activity and the abandonment of the village by the working-age population. Today, the majority of the inhabitants are older adults who have turned to sheep farming, despite the scarcity of water and fodder.
The Un Alto en el Desierto Foundation began working with the community in 2005 when Peña Blanca was in an almost terminal state in terms of economic activity. Together, they decided to adapt and find new ways to generate income and obtain water. The community's desire to protect the Cerro Grande led them to fence off the area and study the fog, which led to the installation of the fog nets.
The results exceeded expectations, and every square meter of netting could harvest up to 2,000 liters of water, or about 49 gallons per square foot. The water collected has allowed at least 30 native species of plants to grow in the Cerro Grande Ecological Reserve, despite the expansion of the desert. The community hopes to secure funding and political support to sustain their initiatives and continue adapting to the realities of living in an increasingly arid landscape.
In order to achieve a sustainable future and fulfill the SDGs, it is crucial for individuals and organizations to come together and take action towards creating a more just and equitable society for all. Only by working collectively towards a shared vision can we hope to create a truly global community that is committed to creating a better world for future generations.