No Drops Wasted: Catching Water From The Sky

An Italian designer has produced a beautiful tree-like water-catching device that meets the local meteorological, geographical, and social conditions of water-scarce communities in Ethiopia and beyond.

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 10.11.16

An Italian designer has produced a beautiful tree-like water-catching device that meets the local meteorological, geographical, and social conditions of water-scarce communities in Ethiopia and beyond.

According to the World Health Organisation, at least 1.8 billion people globally use a water source contaminated with faeces. In Ethiopia alone, some 40 per cent of the population has no access to clean water. Here, women and children walk for many kilometres each day, and still only access contaminated water that then spreads disease; in Ethiopia, 9,000 children die yearly from waterborne diarrhoea.

After visiting the country in 2012, Italian architect and designer Arturo Vittori was inspired to come up with a solution to help local communities access good quality water without having to embark on long, and often dangerous, journeys. His idea is the Warka Water, a water condensation and rain drop-catching device (pictured above), inspired by the giant Warka fig trees of Ethiopia, an important element of Ethiopian community life and culture, and a species that sadly is now at risk of extinction.

How Does It Work?

Warka Water is essentially a nine-metre-tall bamboo tower, wrapped in a special mesh material designed to capture fog and condensation, as well as rainwater during rainy seasons. As atmospheric water vapour from the air condenses on the cold surface of the net, droplets of water are formed. Gravity helps these droplets fall into a container at the bottom of the structure.

The structure is made of five elements that can be easily assembled manually by the local community, without the need for scaffolds or electrical tools. It utilises custom-made meshes designed to work with gravity and local weather conditions. In case of severe weather conditions, the mesh can be quickly flattened down, and the entire structure easily and quickly lowered. With regular maintenance, each Warka tower is estimated to last between 6-10 years.

How is Warka Water Different from Other Water-catching Devices?

The idea of collecting fog and condensation is not new. Rather than install nets and poles that may detract from the landscape, Vittori is bringing his design expertise to the fore, developing a visually appealing tower that adds to its surroundings. It also requires zero electricity, making it ideal for remote and off-grid locations.

What Does the Future Hold?

Vittori and his team are currently at work on a Warka Water tower that can collect 100 litres of water per day, costs 1000 USD –  which may be a steep asking price but it is more cost effective than other water relief options – and can be installed in one day.

After numerous prototypes and tests in Italy, the first tower was recently installed in Ethiopia, with two more pilots in the pipeline in 2016. After the test period, the team plans to branch out to other places that have similar meteorological, geographical and social conditions, offering low-technology and low cost solutions to water-scarcity affected communities.

The team is currently working on a new prototype, and is always keen to hear from anyone who would like to support the project.

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