The impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon has altered weather patterns in many locations around the world. While some regions endure excessive rains and related floods, other regions face drought and even the prospect of famine. The idea of being able to grow food with minimal if any rainfall may seem ridiculous, but the natural world offers an example from the oases in tropical deserts. While such deserts are hot during the day, nighttime temperatures plunge causing humid air to condense on rocks at high elevation, producing little streams of water.
While most of that water will evaporate shortly after sunrise, a small percentage will flow into underground channels and caverns that supply water to oases. Private individuals who became aware of this developed an agricultural practice known as permaculture, which involves the collection of minimal rainfall that is then channeled into small underground caverns. Water loss through evaporation is greatly minimized, while over time, an underground water table develops with its upper level being sufficiently close to the surface to sustain the cultivation of food crops on private land in arid regions such as Arizona.
A complimentary technology that harvests water directly from a humid wind stream has appeared in locations across Pacific South America, and even in certain locations in drought-stricken Ethiopia. During the cooler evening and overnight hours, fences of mesh material installed along the slopes of mountains and valleys where humid winds blow collect droplets of water that flow into pipes connected to a village well and also to underground permaculture storage. Recently in Colombia, a commercial billboard made of mesh material to harvest water from a humid airstream appeared on a hillside, providing water to a nearby village.
At the present time, the combination of water harvesting fences and permaculture is practised on a very small scale. However, it offers hope to many locations around the world where residents of remote villages seek to survive and live using the minimal available resources. While many years ago, thousands of people of India endured famine as a result of misguided government policies, the village of Hivare Bazar located in one of India’s most arid regions of Maharashtra, which receives only 400 mm of rainwater annually, turned to permaculture to produce food and made efficient use of its minimal available water.
While the level of the available water table has dropped drastically at many locations across India, the village of Hivare Bazar has been able to replenish their water table while village farmers grow food crops that require minimal water resources. This is a village-level initiative, but the methods and techniques originated with private land owners located at the edge of a desert. The combination of local control, underground water storage, underground water distribution, and a small storage dam has greatly reduced water loss through evaporation, while seepage water is used productively to sustain food crops.
This initiative in a small village in India contrasts sharply with the insanity that has occurred in Southern Australia within the last decade, in which a state government outlawed small dams on private property and required citizens to source their water from a mega-sized state storage dam. A prolonged drought emptied the mega-dam through the combination of water lost to massive evaporation and to unproductive seepage. A few farmers who still had small dams and covered dams on private property still had water, the dam covers minimizing water lost to evaporation while adapted agricultural practices made productive use of seepage water.
A regional council in Oregon has actually asserted ownership over rain that falls on private property and has imposed a fine on a landowner who collected rainwater that fell on his private property, in barrels located on that property. Property owners living in an arid and remote location on the edge of a desert in Arizona were able to make productive use of minimal rainfall in drought-like conditions. During a drought, a government agency that prohibits property owners from productively using minimal rainfall that falls on their property could reduce food production and cause famine.
In his treatise entitled Africa Batrayed, Dr. George Ayittey illustrated how African dictators who pillaged their national economies also caused Africa’s worst famines. Sudan’s worst famine occurred several months after dictator Siad Barre ordered farmers to grow cotton that could be exported to earn revenue for his regime, at a time when the Nile River flowed through Sudan at its cyclical peak volume.
As a result of the El Nino weather phenomena, several nations face the prospect of minimal rainfall, reduced rainfall, delayed rainfall, or even drought. The precedent of permaculture in the arid region of Maharashtra, India offers some hope of food production to other arid locations around the world. In South Africa, an as-yet small-scale initiative uses solar-electric propulsion to move sections of mesh attached to a vertical axle through humid air, to harvest potable water for human consumption and to support permaculture food production. A mass proliferation of small-scale initiatives internationally could provide potable water for human consumption worldwide.
The advent of permaculture and the direct harvesting of water from humid air can decentralize control over potable water in many locations internationally. In a drought-stricken region such as Ethiopia that faces the prospect of famine, private initiative offers the prospect of providing water and producing food in challenging situations.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.