Warka Water is an alternative water source that serves rural populations in isolated regions where conventional pipelines and infrastructures are unavailable and where water from wells is inaccessible. It is also a non-profit organization by the same name, founded by Italian architect and designer Arturo Vittori, who was recognized by World Design Organization as the recipient of the 2nd World Design Impact Prize in 2015-2016. We reached out to Arturo, whilst travelling in Africa to get an update on the current state of his work and how his projects are meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), one tower at a time.
Since its inception, Warka Water has been developing innovative and sustainable solutions to some of humanity’s most enduring problems with a specific focus on SDG6 – providing rural populations with access to clean water and sanitation. Standing nearly 10-metres tall, the Warka Tower is a low-tech system designed and constructed to collect and harvest potable water from atmospheric water vapors and rainfall.
The tower requires zero electricity – solar or otherwise – and takes a small team roughly one hour to assemble. In areas like Ethipia, where the Tower was first erected, the giant vase-shaped bamboo frame can, when seasonal fogs come in, produce anywhere from 1,600 litres up to 100,000 litres of water.
Every drop counts
Worldwide, an estimated 3,100 cubic miles (12,900 cubic kilometers) of water is suspended as humidity in the air around us. Warka Tower finds inspiration from nature—insects and plants that have developed the capability of collecting and storing water from the air to survive in the most hostile environments on earth. The tower functions only by natural phenomena such us gravity, condensation and evaporation to harvest potable water from the atmosphere by collecting rain, fog and dew.
Since 2012, the team has developed several design concepts and constructed 12 full-scale prototypes in order to test different materials within varying environmental conditions. So far, the prototypes have been built in Ethiopia, Haiti, Cameroon, Togo and Italy. What makes Warka Towers truly sustainable is that each prototype is unique both in its design and the local material used for construction, such as bamboo and palm leaves where available.
Our philosophy is to use local materials and traditional techniques as much as possible. Understanding user experience, we also adapt the design to the context.
What makes Warka Tower an efficient and realistic solution is that it is made with biodegradable and 100% recyclable materials (bamboo, polyester mesh, polyester cable, hemp rope) and designed to be easily built with simple tools and maintained by local villagers without the need of scaffolding or electrical tools.
Simplicity is at the core of the process: we are showing people that there are sustainable ways to give access to water. Digging a well is one of the most basic processes but it is also technologically very efficient.
After clean water comes sanitation and hygiene for all
According to World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 9 people still lack access to safe water and the water crisis comes with a health crisis – unsafe water comes with diseases. Therefore, solving the water crisis can help meet two of the UN SDGs – Access to Clean Water and sanitation (SDG6) and good health and well being (SDG3).
Water is fundamental but it is subject to great risks such as contamination and with contaminated water can come disease. Achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, as well as ending open defecation are critical. The Warka Toilet was therefore developed to provide access to sanitation through the form of a ‘dry toilet’. This composting toilet operates without needing to flush water – not only reducing water consumption and avoiding any contamination and health risks for villagers, but it also produces compost that can be used as fertilizer for agricultural purposes.
Bringing people together to come up with solutions
Today, the design industry is increasingly segmented between different specialties. We need to stop thinking in terms of scales and start thinking in terms of solutions by forming multidisciplinary teams.
Arturo recalls his time as a student at the University of Florence (Italy) in the 1990s. At that time, Architecture and Industrial Design were embedded courses that provided students and young professionals with a focus on purpose rather than means.
I believe in multidisciplinary projects to trigger creativity and regain control over the true purpose of our work. Warka Tower is designed to be owned and operated by the villagers. The architectural component is very important: we bring people together in the construction process.
About Warka Water
Warka Water Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in the US that focuses on innovative and sustainable solutions to some of humanity’s most enduring problems through the fusion of local knowledge and resources, visionary design, and ancient traditions. Among current projects: Warka Tower, W-Solar, W-Garden, W-Toilet, W-Drone, W-House, W-Filter&Distribution and Culture a Porter.