Warka Water: Bamboo tower for drinking water production in Ethiopia

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Written By Marc Helman

Tackling new challenges with a passion for the environment.

Plastic net collects droplets from fog and dew

More than 90 million people live in Ethiopia, but only about a third of them have access to clean drinking water. Children and women often have to walk miles to collect water from wells or ponds.

This is not infrequently contaminated and is then the cause of disease. After visiting the East African country, Italian architect Arturo Vittori wanted to help make it easier for remote villages to access clean water.
He launched the Warka Water project based on the idea of capturing and collecting water in droplet form from mist, dew, and rain.

There is always some water vapor in the air. Thus, air can be used to extract water in many regions around the world.

They were inspired by insects and plants that have evolved the ability to collect and store water from the air to survive in the most adverse environments on Earth. The architect and his project team developed several design concepts.

Twelve prototype fog catchers were created to test different materials in different environmental conditions. Using the Warka Tree, a giant wild fig tree in Ethiopia, as a model, they finally constructed the first test tower: it is 9.50 meters high, weighs 80 kilograms, and retrieves up to 100 liters of water from the air every day.

Bamboo is used to construct the load-bearing triangular structure as a light, flexible, stable, and natural building material.

Inside the tower hangs a plastic net in which dew and mist settle in drops to be collected in a central collector. A perimeter canopy prevents evaporation of the collected water and creates a shaded communal space. Like the fig tree, the tower becomes a central gathering place for villagers.

The Warka Tower is made of biodegradable or fully recyclable materials such as bamboo, wood, bioplastics, and metal studs.

The goal was to use local materials while employing traditional techniques. The tower can be built with simple tools and maintained by villagers without scaffolding or power tools. It can be erected in about four days with eight people.

The structure consists of six modules assembled one by one from the bottom to the top. Natural phenomena such as gravity, condensation, and evaporation are used to extract water without needing electrical energy.

Water harvesting depends on meteorological conditions – places with high fog or humidity levels are particularly suitable. The goal is to produce 40 to 80 liters of drinking water per day. The cost of implementation varies depending on the installation site.

A tower costs about 1,000 euros if it is produced in Ethiopia; the development is currently financed only by donations. In addition, there are attempts to plant vegetable beds in the tower’s shadow to provide healthy food for the population.

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