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The amazing structure that harnesses water from the sky and turns it into drinkable water


Riccardo Mayer | Shutterstock

Paola Belletti - published on 08/19/21

The Warka Water Tower is made from local natural materials and supplies clean water to villages in Ethiopia.

Who knows if the idea for Italian Arturo Vittori‘s engineering feat came when he experienced the discomfort of a sultry summer day. After all, humidity is clandestine water.

Vittori writes on his web site about his project, which is already providing water for several villages in Ethiopia. The plan is to spread this initiative to other parts of the globe, in the many regions where access to drinking water is a priority that’s been shamefully ignored for so long.

There are those who, in order to help their brothers and sisters to have this resource, dig wells and expand networks of canals. While this is good and necessary, it’s not the only solution: There are also those like Vittori, who look to the sky.

Millions of people don’t have access to clean water

Correction: it’s not millions, it’s billions. There are 2.2 billion people in the world who don’t have access to the precious and—and necessary—resource of clean water.

Vittori’s inspiration came from observation and, probably, also from emotion. You can’t help but be moved by the sight of entire communities suffering from thirst and disease because they don’t have access to clean water sources for their most basic needs.

In many Ethiopian villages—and not only there—this is still one of the most painful problems. It’s unacceptable that thousands of women and children (it always seems to fall to them) are forced to walk for hours every day to fill their vessels at pools of dirty water, shared with animals. One’s heart, if it has remained honest, can only be moved with compassion to remedy this injustice. What about one’s mind? If it’s the ingenious brain of an architect, it will probably set about designing a solution.

A tower inspired by nature

The website Ohga! reports:

Warka Water was first installed in 2015 in Ethiopia and has succeeded in bringing clean water to villagers. The tower, which is built with natural materials and can collect up to 80 liters (about 20 gallons, ed.) of water per day, is now on its fourth model and has been installed in other parts of the world.

This tower that captures water from the air was invented by copying the wonderful tricks nature uses to survive (biomimicry). Vittori explains, on the urbanNext website:

Warka Water is an alternative water source for rural populations in Africa that face difficulties accessing drinking water. With the objective of providing an average of 100 liters (about 26 gallons, ed.) of drinking water every day, Warka Water collects rain and harvests fog and dew. The Warka’s water harvesting technique and construction system are inspired by biomimicry, which engages the imitation of natural phenomena for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Many plants and animals have developed unique micro- and nano-scale structural features on their surfaces that enable them to collect water from the air and survive in hostile environments.

The moment of inspiration

The Warka Water project (that name demands an explanation, but we’ll get to that later) came about following a trip by architect Vittori to Ethiopia. Seeing how poorly and inadequately the communities were obtaining such a precious commodity, he decided to contribute to improving their conditions with a project. Thus was born the tower capable of extracting water from the air at the cost of just $1,000 for construction. Ohga! reports:

“Visiting small communities in Ethiopia in 2013, I witnessed this dramatic reality: the lack of potable water,” says Arturo Vittori. “The villagers live in a beautiful natural environment but often without running water, electricity, or sanitation. This is how the Warka Water tower project was initiated.”

How it works

Warka Water, made from local and natural materials such as bamboo, collects both rainwater and evaporated water from the atmosphere by extracting it from humidity and condensation produced by temperature changes. It’s filtered before reaching the village for distribution.

How it’s made

It consists of a net, a canopy to retain the dew and a cistern to collect the water.

The villagers construct it themselves by hand. It thus becomes part of their knowledge, and as such will pass from one generation to the next.

Indeed, one of the several goals of the project leader is to respect and promote the traditions of the communities he helps.

Why this name?

In Ethiopia, the fig tree—warka—plays a special role: it serves as a refuge and meeting place for local communities. This is the ideal for the tower, too. Under its shade the people of the village can gather for social, political, or recreational moments and, like the fig tree, the tower brings life and nourishment.

Now that the project has become consolidated, it has been enriched with solar panels so that—like any western citizen, but with a completely different view—the villagers served by a Warka Water can recharge tablets and other devices.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Warka Water Inc (@warkawaterinc)

With clean water, people can drink, but also wash themselves and thus reduce the transmission of diseases. They can also grow small gardens.

Most of us have much more than just drinking water at our disposal. However, seeing that some people are only now achieving this goal can teach us to look at this resource and the many others that Creation offers us with a new and different attitude. It invites us to rethink our lifestyle. The custody of Creation and the measured use of the resources it offers us is one of man’s fundamental duties and a sure way to build peace.

Strictly speaking, it’s a true blessing from God. So we should begin again by saying, “Thank you!”

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