Billions of people lack access to clean water and adequate sanitation. Is there anything creative people can do to help?
The picturesque and rugged high plateau region of northeast Ethiopia is a difficult land to settle. Most rivers in the north of the country flow west, finding themselves part of the Nile, while the few streams flowing through the northeast often dry up in the summer months. Villages here send their women and children to find and carry home water from shallow, unprotected ponds. These people walk for miles to procure scanty water that is frequently contaminated by animal and human waste, parasites and disease, knowing that their success or failure is the life or death of their family and community. It’s a heavy burden, physically and emotionally, and leaves little to no room for realizing individual potential or creative endeavors. The struggle for survival is everything.
An international team of architects, artists, sociologists, filmmakers and designers called Architecture and Vision, based in Italy, has come together with a plan to help harvest water from the air, freeing women and children for new pursuits and making the future of these communities more secure. The project is called “Warka Water”, named after a giant species of Ficus tree that provides gathering spaces for villages in the region. People meet under the Warka to learn, to make decisions, to share and to celebrate civic and religious events. The Warka is a symbol of village life, and this symbol itself is in danger. Ethiopia has lost 60% of its woodlands over the last 40 years.
By studying desert animals and plants the team has identified shapes, surfaces, materials and coatings that will help condense water from the air. The natural water collecting systems of cacti, the properties of spider webs, beetle shells and lotus flowers have come together with the structure of termite hives, as well as local architecture and basket weaving to produce the Warka Tower, a sustainable and relatively inexpensive means of collecting water.
The tower consists of a bamboo exoskeleton for support, a mesh textile that collects moisture and a water tank for storage. The newest version, Warka 3.1, also includes a canopy around the structure that provides shade and shelter from wind, increasing stability and humidity. Rotating mirrors have been added on thin, flexible antennae on top of the structure. Aesthetically, these reflect sunlight and moonlight and dance in the wind. Functionally, the mirrors discourage birds from flocking to the tower, where they would foul and drink the water produced there.
Warka 3.1, made principally of bamboo, hemp and bio-plastic, is projected to cost near $1,000 American dollars per tower and is designed to be built with simple tools by a team of four or five people. It is easily maintained without advanced and expensive machinery and leaves little to no footprint on the planet. Lovely, culturally relevant and useful, a single Warka Tower can provide up to 100 liters (over 26 gallons) per day. The structure weighs 60 kg (over 132 lbs) and is 10 m (over 32 feet) tall. You can read more about the design here.
It is inspiring to see what can happen when people pool their creativity together to benefit the community. Is there anything you can do where you are?