How an Italian Architecture Firm is Bringing Clean Water to Ethiopia

How an Italian Architecture Firm is Bringing Clean Water to Ethiopia

By Theventure

More than a beautiful structure, the Warka Water tower aims to provide potable water and a sustainable economy to local villagers.

Women and children in Ethiopia walk several kilometers from their villages every day to get heavy loads of water mainly from contaminated sources. Carrying the water in hollowed out pumpkins, plastic bottles and other makeshift containers, their journeys are dangerous—running the risk of rape and abduction—and can take as long as 12 hours. Much of the water they collect is contaminated with human and animal waste. As few as 22% of Ethiopians have access to clean water, according to World Health Organization estimates.

In 2012, Architecture and Vision Director Arturo Vittori took a trip to Ethiopia and was taken by the beautiful country, calling the experience “like traveling back in time to another age.” However, Vittori was also struck by the severe shortage of clean water throughout the country. “We saw with our eyes this dramatic situation with people lacking access to potable water,” said Vittori. “Having seen all this, we made it our mission to find a solution and help them overcome their water problem.”

A Sustainable Solution

In keeping with the company’s mission to create sustainable projects and use architecture as “an answer to the needs of society,” Vittori and his design partner, Andreas Vogler, developed a 31-foot-tall latticed contraption for collecting water called Warka Water. Named after a wild fig tree native to Ethiopia that serves as an important gathering place for villagers, Water Water was designed with nature in mind.

By studying beetles, spider webs, termite hives and cactus spines, the firm developed a towering structure that captures water from thin air—transforming rain, fog and even dew into potable water for the local community. The contraption—comprised of a bamboo frame, a canopy, mesh to capture droplets, rope, and a water tank—resembles a beautiful towering sculpture. But form meets function, as Warka Water captures as much as 100 liters (or 24.6 gallons) of water a day.

Vittori and Vogler are not the first to use mesh netting to harvest dew and fog. However, Warka Water is focused on developing a durable device that can be mass-produced inexpensively and easily assembled by local villagers. “Once locals have the necessary know-how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the Warka,” according to Vittori. Six people working together can construct a Warka tower in about four days, with no electrical machinery required. Warka Water’s goal is to collaborate with the local community to integrate traditional tools and construction technique. Furthermore, once local workers are fully trained, there’s the potential to create an economy around the assembly and maintenance of the towers. Once Warka is brought to scale, it will cost about $1,000 for its production in Ethiopia.

Continuing Evolution

Warka Water has gone through nearly a dozen prototypes as the team continues to fine-tune the details, experimenting with different custom meshes and using devices to analyze local weather conditions that will increase water collection.

The improved mesh will also filter out parasites and other matter that carry disease and other contaminants. In late May, the team started to set up its latest prototype, Warka Water 3.2 in Dorze in southern Ethiopia, where it will used by villagers and closely monitored. Prototypes are also set up in Italy to run experiments and tests. The team plans to finalize its design and offer kits to other villages in Ethiopia by 2019.

So far, Warka Water Inc. has received support from the Italian Development Cooperation, the Italian Cultural Institute in Addis Ababa, and the African Bamboo Company, and it has raised more than $40,000 from recent Kickstarter campaigns. Warka Water’s potential for impact is enormous: Not only will it give a community clean water while creating a local manufacturing economy, it could also change the way locals view their habitat.

“The water generated by the Warka tower can be used for irrigation, reforestation, and ecosystem regeneration,” they explain. “As part of training local villagers, we plan to institute a water management program that teaches the best practices of using, distributing, and recycling harvested water. Through this program, we hope the villagers can understand our relationship with the environment.”