Warka Water is a vertical structure designed to collect/harvest potable water from the air. It offers an alternative water source to rural populations that face challenges in accessing drinkable water.
In 2012, we visited small isolated villages up on a high plateau in the North East region of Ethiopia. There we witnessed a dramatic reality: the lack of potable water. The villagers live in a beautiful natural environment but often without running water, electricity, a toilet or shower. To survive here, women and children walk every day for miles to shallow, unprotected ponds where the water is often contaminated with human and animal waste, parasites, and diseases. It was imperative to take action and create a solution to mitigate this water shortage issue.
The name “Warka Water” comes from the Warka Tree (Ficus Vasta), a giant wild fig tree native to Ethiopia. The tree’s fruit provides nourishment for the people and animals, and its shade is traditionally used for public gatherings and school classes. The Warka tree constitutes a very important part of the Ethiopian culture and ecosystem. The project draws inspiration from various sources. From nature, we observed and studied the Namib Beetle, spider webs, termite hives, and cactus spines to learn how natural organisms and structures collect and retain water from their surroundings. Culturally, we were inspired by the social significance of the Warka tree, Ethiopian craftsmanship, and basket weaving techniques as well as the traditional Mediterranean fish traps called “Nassi di Giunco”.
In order to have a successful installation, the following elements must be present:
– a social need for water
– suitable meteorological conditions and topography
– a community that will maintain and use it
Once the prototype development and testing phases are completed, we hope to manufacture the Warka on a large-scale, which will bring the cost down. For Ethiopia, our estimated cost per tower is about $1000—significantly less than other water relief options available. The exact cost will depend on where it will be manufactured.
We need to complete the development phase, test the prototypes by launching and monitoring at various pilot locations, and then proceed with the large-scale production. During the pilot phase, we will survey the local surroundings to source materials and determine production sites and requirements.
A number of prototypes are installed in Italy in order to run experiments and tests. Our pilot field project is in Cameroon.
A part of the Warka Water concept is to develop a design that can blend into the natural surroundings and aesthetically complement the local architecture. One of our main sources of inspiration, particularly for the structure’s outer shell, was traditional Ethiopian craftsmanship and basket-weaving techniques.
We have constructed 15 Warka Towers so far. We are still in the prototyping phase, so none are permanent yet. We are currently working on Version 4.3.
Warka Water version 2.0 is a 12m structure, 3m taller than the previous prototype. We implemented an improved connection system between the Juncus canes, which is faster to assemble. The base is much wider, and thus more stable and allows for maintenance from the inside. There are moving roots with rotating mirrors that keep the birds away from the tower. Packaging and transportation have been optimized as well.
We are constructing the Warka Village in Cameroon, South region.
We are implementing the Warka Tower version 4.3, in the Warka Village.
The project is still in an exploratory phase, but the aim is to collect an annual average of 50 to 100 litres of potable water a day. The harvested water can be used as drinking water and stored for other purposes like irrigation. We will introduce a water management system that teaches the principles of permaculture and appoint a water manager to administer the water distribution guidelines.
WW is designed for harvesting dew and fog and also for rain collection, providing varying amounts of potable water throughout the year. Water can be taken directly and locally from the environment, without wasting energy in transport. Rainwater and fog will be captured and stored during the meteorological events. Water by condensation will occur more frequently at night when the air temperature goes below the dew point.
We are experimenting with different types of materials and technologies – from polymeric meshes to natural ones – and measuring the water collection performance of the Warka.
The water produced from rain, fog and dew most likely, if the enviroment is not polluted, will comply with WHO (World Health Organization) recommended guidelines for drinking water. Nevertheless, the probable presence of small amounts of animal and/or vegetal bacteria (e.g., from the excretions of insects drinking the dew water) may require a light antibacterial treatment like boiling or microfiltration. We are currently developing lost-cost water filtering solutions to embed in the Warka towers.
The water should be harvested very early in the morning, before sunrise.
Warka consists of local and biodegradable materials such as bamboo, hemp and bio-plastic. Bamboo is the main material used for the frame structure. It is available locally in Ethiopia and can be found in many areas of the world. The mesh hanging inside the structure is under development at the moment. We are testing several materials with special coating that enables water collection. Atmospheric water vapor from the air condenses on the cold surface of the net, forms droplets of liquid water (dew), and falls under the influence of gravity into a container found at the bottom of the structure. The mesh technology is low-cost and relies on gravity and local weather conditions. The mesh will be custom made and produced, but the specific location for manufacturing it is to be determined.
This is the canopy that will shade the area around WW. This will create a protected environment against the eat during the day for people from the community and later an illuminated space for the night. It is also necessary for lowering down the temperature at the WW base.
We are developing different options to find the best design that is suitable for various environmental contexts. The look and functionality of Warka Water have evolved over numerous iterations and prototype versions.
Since the design involves complex geometry, it had to be done using several parametric computing programs and techniques. But we always kept in mind that the construction needs to be simple and easy. Parametric Grasshopper was used for the design, the kinematics and mechanics were studied and simulated with Autodesk Inventor, and the 3D mesh with Autocad.
The tools needed to construct a Warka are basic and manual, such as a bamboo splitter, caliper, hammer, drill and a saw. No electrical machinery is needed.
Warka is designed to be easily built by local villagers. It will be distributed as a kit of elements prefabricated in a local factory. The kit will be assembled in 1 day by a team of 4 people without scaffolding and electrical tools. The final assembly takes less than an hour.
A vacant area of approximately 100 sqm is required for the construction of one Warka. An area of about 400 sqm is required for its installation as footprint.
They can be close to one another.
Special skills are not required to install the Warka Tower. We will organize a training course to give the basic instructions on how to assemble and maintain the Warka and distribute manuals on ‘Construction’ and ‘Operation and Maintenance’.
Visitors are welcome to engage with the Warka Tower from the outside. However, the access to the core of the Warka, where the water tank is located, is limited and protected by the triangulated bamboo structure. The access will be limited to the water manager and the people involved in maintenance.
Warka Warka installed in Ethiopia is estimated to last from 6 to 10 years. The maintenance of the structure is very important to guaranty a long duration. It is important to check-up regularly the correct functioning and apply the maintenance needed to keep Warka operative such as replacement of filters, mesh reparation, ropes regular tightening and bamboo element substitution when damaged. After the first pilot test will be tested we will have a better understanding of its durability.
Warka is designed to withstand different weather conditions and collect rainwater during the rainy season. In case of severe weather events such as a sand storm or electrical storm, the mesh can be flattened down. In case of a hurricane event, the tower can be lowered down to the ground by 4 people in 30 minutes and stored in a safe place.
All the elements, natural fibers and plastic mesh, may in part need some maintenance and replacements, such as the substitution of cracked bamboo components.
Are there any alternative or even complementary (to Warka) Water-gathering solutions that have been previously adopted in local communities?
Historically, there are some cases of rural communities adopting similarly low-tech and passive solutions for water collection.
There are several reasons: You do not always find water. And even if you do, sometimes it is not potable. Often, you need to drill deep in the ground, approximately 500m to find water. Bringing water to the top requires treadle pumps and electrical equipment, which are both expensive and difficult to maintain. Various international organizations have invested funds to build wells in these communities. However, maintaining them has been a challenge, as local governments cannot always keep them in function or successfully repair damages.
In addition to its water collection abilities, the Warka is designed to be used as a space for public gathering. We are focused on creating a beautiful structure that can blend into the natural and cultural environments of the rural communities, not simply putting steel masts and a net to collect water. The Warka is made up of environmentally sustainable and biodegradable materials that can be sourced locally, which can also give way to a new economy.
Studying the local climate and gathering data is fundamental to site selection. Using the monitoring equipment ‘Warkino’, we analyze the weather conditions and assess the presence and frequency of fog, rain and dew in the area. Once the site has been identified as suitable for Warka, a test prototype of 1 sqm devices will be installed and monitored for 6 months. The site should have sufficient space available and free for the construction of the Warka.
Does the tower require the presence of Low-lying airborne water droplets to function effectively, or can it simply draw water from the air when humidity levels are sufficiently high?
The tower can work better with the presence of the fog, but it can also function without it. The Warka tower is also designed to collect rainwater during the rainy season.
Is the system able to capture more than 100 liters of water per day in places where there is high humidity in the atmosphere or It rains frequently?
Naturally, it would collect more water.
Some areas may have more favorable conditions than others. However, air always contains a certain amount of water, irrespective of local ambient temperatures and humidity conditions. This makes it possible to produce water from air almost anywhere in the world. Locations with high rates of aerosol and humidity are best to install a condenser.
Warka is meant to be settled in the high plateau area where no pollution is present due to the absence of technology.
We worked independently with no specific assistance from other organizations. Only some external collaboration in specific project development phases.
We do not have the financial support yet to help us complete the study and bring it to production. Your help and generosity will help us bring the towers to the communities in need!
To learn more about our project, you can visit:
Our official website: www.architectureandvision.com/warkawater
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/architectureandvision
If you would like to publish an article or a blog post on Warka Water to help us spread the word, or have any other collaboration ideas, please drop us an email at mail@architectureandvision. And lastly, help us make this Kickstarter project a success by making a donation here! We would greatly appreciate your support for Warka Water.