School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

UN Water Analytical Brief Cites Research by UKZN Senior Professor and Alumnus

Senior Professor Michael Savage of the Discipline of Agrometeorology and his former student Dr Mussie Fessehaye of the University of Bern, have had their research on fog-water collection referenced in a technical report by United Nations Water on unconventional water resources.

The analytical brief highlights the impact of water scarcity on sustainable development, social unrest and conflict, and human migration, and emphasises the need to explore solutions to water scarcity as the problem is exacerbated by climate change and population growth.

Describing conventional methods of water provisioning, such as rainfall, river runoff and groundwater as being over-exploited, the report explores unconventional water resources to close the demand-supply gap for freshwater in an era of growing water scarcity.

The unconventional water augmentation opportunities covered in the brief include fog-water harvesting; cloud seeding; micro-catchment rainwater harvesting; deep onshore and offshore groundwater; municipal wastewater; agricultural drainage water; iceberg towing; ballast water; and desalinated water. The brief also examines how to address barriers by creating an enabling environment through policy, education, community participation and more.

Savage and Fessehaye’s contribution came from a review that focused on the role of fog-water in household livelihood improvement and economic development.

In their 2014 paper on fog-water collection for community use, published in Elsevier’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Fessehaye, Savage and other co-authors discuss the evidence of fog interception in natural systems and the history of fog-water collection in various countries over time. Fog-water collection has been considered as a potential alternative or supplementary water resource since the early 19th century. They reviewed the climatic and topographic features essential for fog formation and the technology needed to collect it.

Developing countries, particularly those in arid or semi-arid regions with conditions that favour fog-water collection, have commenced such collection, and Fessehaye and Savage reviewed the technology of fog collection, saying it is simple, cost-effective and energy-free, yet is also seasonal, localised, and utilises technology that must be maintained. They recommend that technical, economic, social, cultural and management factors be addressed in the planning and implementation of the technology to ensure its sustainability.

The UN Water analytical brief explored various aspects of fog-water collection, the conditions that result in fog, and the systems used to collect it. In a section dealing with economic and financial aspects, the brief cites research by Fessehaye and co-authors on the cost of fog-water collection compared to other water sources, noting the comparative low maintenance of fog-water collection systems and the local, small-scale nature of the systems that connect communities to their land and reduce forced migration.

Fessehaye and Savage’s work was also cited in the discussion on education and capacity-building needs where fog-water systems are identified as community-run systems established with professional support, and as solutions to free up time that would be used for water collection for the pursuit of education and business, particularly by women and girls.

Fessehaye completed his Master’s in Agrometeorology at UKZN in 2003 and his PhD at the University of Bern in 2018, where he is now pursuing postdoctoral research.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied