Sometimes you hear of an invention so fantastic that you just have to write about it. The WarkaWater Tower is one of these. Water is one of those things that we, in countries like the UK and US tend to take for granted – it is clean, clear and tends to come out of our taps with no effort on our part. But for many people around the world, water is a huge, huge issue, or rather lack of clean drinking water is. It is estimated that 768 million people do not have access to clean water and that every day 1400 children under the age of five develop water-borne diseases. Women and children often have to walk for miles to find this water and bring it back in what is a time-consuming and sometimes dangerous journey.
After seeing the plight of villagers in Ethiopia first hand, designer Arturo Vittori put his mind to finding a solution. Inspired by a local tree – the Warka, which is a large fig tree native to Ethiopia, he created a structure that is now bringing both clean water and hope to thousands of people. The WarkaWater Tower is thirty feet tall, its vase-shaped frame woven from bamboo or juncus stalks. Inside this is a mesh made from nylon and polypropylene.
It works when air flows through the outer structure and then condenses on the inner mesh. The droplets then roll down into a container at the bottom. Obviously to do this, a temperature difference is needed, so the time between nightfall and daybreak is the most important time. This is why it works so well in desert conditions where daytime and nighttime temperatures can differ between as much as 50 degrees. Tests have shown that one of these towers can collect around 25 gallons of water in a day.
It costs about $500 to set up a tower but because they use local materials and are very low-tech, they are easy to erect and to maintain. The only other way to get fresh water – drilling down to great depths through hard rock is not only far more difficult and expensive, it requires electricity to work the pump and needs more maintenance. Despite all this, these towers are rare as Vittorio still needs funding to do more research on bigger towers and also to get them into production.