Chungungo is a fishing village on the Chilean coast, in most respects it is very similar to the many other small communities, strung out along thousands of miles of Pacific coastline, that depend on small scale fishing for their survival.
But Chungungo is the site of an ingenious invention, the “atrapanieblas” or “mist-catcher”, that has been copied around the world as a means of obtaining fresh water in areas where there is next to no rain and no ground water.
It is a place that I have visited many times and enjoy stopping at if I am passing through the region of Coquimbo, more commonly known by its unimaginative administrative name, the 4th Region. As you travel up the Pan-American Highway, that runs the length of South America, the mist-catcher is visible on top of the coastal hills that surround and isolate Chungungo.
It is this isolation that spawned the ingenious system. The village had no source of fresh water, so before the mist-catcher was implemented water had to be brought to the remote village by road.
The road to the top of the hills winds up a gravel road past an abandoned Iron mine to the mist-catchers. The system comprises a line of large Rashell nets, each about 100m2 that look like giant tennis nets. Although the area has very little rain fall, the hill tops are frequently cloaked in a sea fog called “camanchaca”. As the mist passes through the nets it condenses and runs down the nets into collecting trays and into a pipe that supplies Chungungo with drinking water. The system provides approximately 13,000 litres of water per day.
From high above the Pacific by the mist-catcher the only sound is that of water trickling off to the lonely village of Chungungo below – a reminder of how ingenuity can provide inexpensive life improving solutions.