As Californians prepare for a third summer of drought, we may be temporarily inconvenienced here or there, but we have no concept of how it would feel to have not one drop of water come out of a faucet when we turn on the tap.
Yet, in villages in the mountainous regions of Ethiopia, women and their children spend most of their days walking for miles on dangerous roadways to collect water from worm-filled ponds, which are basically cesspools of human waste. After they fill these heavy containers, they haul them back to their homes. It not only takes hours out of their days (oftentimes they make two trips each day), but more importantly, the children are exposed to dangerous illnesses from the journey and the contaminated water which compromises their fragile immune systems and many die. Those who survive, are kept out of school to help haul the water to their families. It's estimated 40 billion hours every year are spent walking for drinking water.
Every year, unsafe water kills more people than violence and that includes war. Children are the biggest casualties of the more than two million people who die from waterborne illnesses each year.
Italian entrepreneur Arturo Vittori has designed a seemingly economical and sustainable solution for harvesting atmospheric water vapors -- literally collecting drinking water from the air. If his invention is doable in Ethiopia, then it might just help California's catastrophic drought crisis.
The WarkaWater name comes from the Warka fig tree in Ethiopia. They are 30 feet, tall -- 80 pound pillars which are constructed in two sections. There is a semi-rigid exoskeleton, built by tying bamboo or juncus stalks together an an internal plastic mesh, similar to polypropylene and nylon fibers. They act as a scaffold for condensation and as they droplets of dew form, they follow the mesh into a basin at the base of the structure.
Genius -- to capture water from thin air -- as nature might have intended? We'll see -- as Vittori hopes to have the towers available to the village residents in 2016. I would venture to say that if the proposed structures can pull in 25 gallons of clean water a day in the desert, it might be possible to design structures specifically for the foggy conditions on the California coast that could help tap a source of supplemental fresh water for the state.
I'm starting to see more and more solar panels appearing on the sunny sides of roofs; if something economical can be designed to harvest fresh water from the air, it would make a nice use of the shadowed side. Of course, they would need to create a bigger harvesting device to capture more water here in the U.S., in states such as California.
For the purposes of the initial phase of construction -- cost wise-it appears to be had for pennies for dew drops and at a mere $550.00 to build with only a team of four people, using local materials, it beats the many major corporations and businesses who are vying for similar sustainable water solutions with costlier price tags.
While Californians could surely put this technology to a much needed use, I hope for the sake of the families in countries like Ethiopia -- that the WarkaWater towers provide them with safe, clean water, thereby saving lives and affording them opportunities to stave off the cycles of poverty, and enable them precious time for more productive tasks.