Warka Water: Revolutionary Design Solution to End Water Problems in Ethiopia

The end of Water Problems in Ethiopia

Water is a precious resource in Africa, especially in countries such as Ethiopia, where women are forced to walk for miles to the nearest water source, just to draw contaminated water from shallow, dirty ponds. Unfortunately, most of the times the water is not safe to drink and many people suffer from the lack of access to clean drinking water.

According to the World Health Organization, 34% of Ethiopia’s rural population lacks access to clean drinking water, one of the reasons that 54,000 children die each year from diarrhea. However, a humanitarian approach to architecture and design might be the end of water problems in poverty-stricken countries.

Arturo Vittori is a man with a clear goal set in his mind: providing a relatively cheap, easy to build and maintain eco-friendly alternative water source for Ethiopians. Vittori, founder of the Italian firm Architecture and Vision gathered a team of fellow designers and visited Ethiopian villages in the country’s mountainous northeastern region in 2012. After assessing the water issue in the area, Vittori’s team responded to the problem by developing Warka Water, an alternative water source project with architecturally stunning water collection towers.

The Birth of a Project

Infrastructure is scarce in rural areas of Ethiopia and building a well is neither easy nor affordable. To find water source, you need to drill deep in the ground up to 1,600 ft (500 m) and bringing water to the top requires pumps and electrical equipment, which are both expensive and difficult to maintain.

Air always contains a certain amount of water, irrespective of local ambient temperatures and humidity conditions, making it possible to produce water from air almost anywhere in the world. Locations with high rates of aerosol and humidity are best to install WW, such as the mountainous regions of Ethiopia.

Warka Water (WW) is named after the Warka tree, which is a giant wild fig tree native to Ethiopia. This tree has a very important part in the local culture and ecosystem and serves as a central gathering place in many villages. It is designed to be owned and operated by villagers, and not only provides a fundamental resource for life, but also creates a social place for the community, thanks to its design. WW is a vertical structure designed to harvest potable water from the atmosphere by collecting rain, fog and dew.

However, Warka Water should not be considered as the solution to all water problems in developing countries but rather as a tool that can provide clean water in selected areas, particularly in mountainous regions where conventional pipelines will never reach and where water is not available from wells.

Inspired by Nature

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, where water is scarce. The Warka’s water harvesting technique and construction system are inspired by several sources found in nature:

  • the Namib beetle’s shell
  • lotus flower leaves
  • spider web threads
  • integrated fog collection systems in cactus
  • termite hives

The team identified specific materials and coatings that can enhance dew condensation and water flow storage capabilities of the mesh used in the construction of the Warka towers. The design of the outer shell, its airflow, shape and geometry was influenced by termite hives. Weirdly enough, no one like termites and yet here we are designing something after their hive. Obviously, it’s better because no one is struggling with a termite infestation. However, if this is something that you are experiencing then don’t worry, all you have to do is call up someone like termite control los angeles to help you out with your problem. There are a lot of people who suffer from a termite problem. They love wood you see and so rotting wood or wood that hasn’t been looked after properly attracts them. This is when there are different types of termite treatment available. The WW team also looked at local cultures and vernacular architecture, incorporating traditional Ethiopian basket-weaving techniques.

Warka Water 3.1 Characteristics

Below are the key details of Warka Water 3.1:

  • Daily water collection: 13 to 26 gallons (50 to 100 L), annual average.
  • Water tank storage: 264 gallons (1000 L).
  • Construction: 4 days, 6 people (by hand, no electrical power machinery required).
  • Assembly: 3 hours, 4 people.
  • Weight: 132 pounds (60 kg).
  • Materials: Bamboo, hemp, metal pins, bio-plastic.
  • Dimensions: Height 33 ft (10 m) – Footprint Ø 13 ft (4.2 m).
  • Surface Area: Mesh 262 sq ft (80 sq. m), Collector 141 sq ft (43 sq. m), Canopy 285 sq ft (87 sq. m).
  • Cost: ~ $1,000 (production in Ethiopia).
  • Maintenance: easy to be maintained, cleaned and repaired.

Warka Water 3.1 consists of 5 modules that are very easy to assemble, from top to bottom. The outer frame structure, made with split bamboo elements, is structurally optimized for lightness and strength:

  • elegant design of the triangulated frame geometry offers both stability and robustness
  • joints are made with metal pins and hemp ropes
  • a network of ropes provides additional stability
  • the tension in the diagonal guy-wire, combined with the compressional strength of the bamboo structure, allows the tower to withstand strong winds
  • 8 fixation points placed radially at 26 ft (8 m) distance from the WW base and tightened with 8 polyester ropes, which are very low-stretch and ultraviolet resistant
  • Inside the bamboo structure hangs the plastic mesh that collects droplets of water from the high humidity in the air and the collector where the dew condensation can happen at night
  • a textile canopy around the WW bamboo structure creates a shaded area

Help Warka Water Make a Difference in Ethiopian Villages

So far, Vittori’s team built 9 water towers, one in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, and is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to construct and test 10 new Warka Water 3.2 prototypes. Many usually look for means to give the money directly to the communities (through https://charity.gofundme.com/c/giving-tuesday methods or others), which has its merits, but by developing this product a long term solution could be found. There are 19 days to go and a $40,000 goal, with a little over $16,000 pledged for the project. Vittori and his colleagues also plan to offer training courses to village inhabitants, teaching them how to construct, use, and care for the towers. The water WW collects from the atmosphere in rural regions will likely comply with WHO standards for drinking water purity.

It’s about answering a need. I believe we all should do something to make our planet a better place for all of us and not thinking only to our immediate interests.

Arturo Vittori, CEO and founder of Warka Water

Warka Water Kickstarter Campaign

This is definitely a project that deserves public support and many people will be excited to hear that it could become a reality. Warka Water is a great opportunity to help those truly in need for safe, clean drinking water and could help save thousands of lives each year. Call us at 760.734.5787 and get in touch with one of our water experts today to learn more about sustainable water saving practices to apply at home.


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