Author Nicholas Derenzo Illustration Jameson Simpson
In Ethiopia’s arid mountains, women and children spend hours each day trekking to find drinking water. Because it would cost too much to break through the 1,600 feet of rock required to dig a well in this terrain, they often resort to disease-spreading ponds. After an eye-opening visit to the region, Italian industrial designer Arturo Vittori decided the answer didn’t lie in cutting-edge technology. Instead, he was inspired by a wild fig tree, the warka, which acts as a central hub in local village life. His solution, the WarkaWater tower, is as elegantly low-tech as a handwoven basket. Using only the basic principle of condensation, it could be the key to providing potable water to an entire continent. Here’s how he plans to pull water out of thin air.
1. The 30-foot-tall WarkaWater tower is erected by tying together stalks of bamboo or local juncus (rushes). Though the structure weighs only 88 pounds, its open-weave design can withstand strong desert wind gusts without the threat of collapse.
2. A nylon or polypropylene net is attached to the interior to collect water droplets that condense from cold night air. The system takes advantage of the desert’s 50 degree day-to-night temperature shifts and can gather 25 gallons of clean drinking water per day.
3. Drawing on the teach-a-man-to-fish idea, towers are designed to be easily replicable: They cost $550 to build, can be set up in under a week by four builders and require no advanced technological skills. Vittori hopes to deploy his first towers by 2015.