Water is one of the most precious resources on Earth, but its importance seems forgotten in the western world where its ease of access is often instantaneous. But for 768 million people worldwide, it’s a daily struggle to find safe water, and in result, 1,400 children under the age of five die from water-based diseases every day.
Inspired to offer solution to this issue in a creative way, designer Arturo Vittori invented stunning water towers that can harvest atmospheric water vapor from the air. The nearly 30-foot tall WarkaWater towers can collect over 25 gallons of portable water per day, and are comprised of two sections. The first is a semi-rigid exoskeleton built by tying stalks of juncus or bamboo together; the second, an internal plastic mesh similar to the bags oranges are packed in. The nylon and polypropylene fibers act as a scaffold for condensation, and once droplets of dew form, are funneled by the mesh into a basin at the base of the structure.
The crisis of water shortage caught Vittori’s attention while traveling through Ethiopia. “There, people live in a beautiful natural environment but often without running water, electricity, a toilet, or a shower,” he says. It’s common for women and children to walk miles to worm-filled ponds which are contaminated with human waste. There, they collect water in trashed plastic containers or dried gourds, then carry the heavy load on treacherous roads back to their homes. This is a process which takes hours and endangers the children by exposing them to dangerous illnesses. It also takes them away from school – ensuring that a cycle of poverty repeats.
Hence, the creation of “WarkaWater”. Vittori shared, “[this] is designed to provide clean water as well as ensure long-term environmental, financial, and social sustainability. Once locals have the necessary know how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the WarkaWater towers.” Each tower costs approximately $550 and can be built in under a week with a four-person team and locally available materials.
Digging a well might seem a more obvious solution, but that requires drilling 1,500 feet into Ethiopia’s rocky plateaus, and can be very expensive. After a well is dug, pumps and a reliable electrical connection must also be maintained – making it an unlikely proposition.
How did such an invention come to exist? Vittori was inspired by the giant, gravity-defying, and dome-shaped Warka tree which is native to Ethiopia, sprouts figs, and is used as a community gathering space. “To make people independent, especially in such a rural context it’s synonymous of a sustainable project and guaranties the longevity,” says Vittori. “Using natural fibers helps the tower to be integrated with the landscape both visually with the natural context as well as with local traditional techniques.”
Without a doubt the design is beautiful, inspiring, and an intelligent way to wick moisture from the atmosphere to lessen the burden women and children are often subject to while striving to attain water.
Though the final product is handcrafted, Vittori has used the same parametric modeling skills honed working on aircraft interiors and solar powered cars to create a solution that is safe and stunning.
The finished design is a 88-pound sculpture, 26-feet wide at its broadest point, and just a few feet at its narrowest. It seems the two-year period of perfecting the design was worth the wait. But it continues to be improved, as Vittori and the team have tested this design in multiple locations, and continue to work on improvements that increase the frame’s stability while simultaneously making it easy for villagers to clean the internal mesh.
With such a design ready for action, their hope is to have two WarkaWater towers errected in Ethipioa by 2015. The team and world-wide supports believe this is possible.
Vittori is also looking for financial rainmakers who’d like to seed these tree-inspired structures across across the country.