A new village being constructed in the rainforests of Cameroon is attempting to solve age-old human water needs using only materials and resources native to the area. The project was conceived and designed by Italian architect Arturo Vittori and his nonprofit Warka Water to preserve the Pygmy civilization of the isolated Mvoumagomi region. The traditional society of hunter-gathers has roamed the African rainforests for centuries but is now being penned in between off-limits conservation districts and private land being stripped for oil palm and rubber trees.
The Warka village lies in a place with no roads and little communication with the outside world. Due to frequent flooding, the territory can be totally inaccessible during the rainy seasons. The innovative new micro-town incorporates several features to support the life and livelihood of the Pygmy culture all year round.
Two Warka Towers provide an alternative source of drinking water for residents by gathering moisture from rain, fog, and dew. “It is a passive structure, it functions only by natural phenomena such as gravity, condensation, and evaporation,” the company website explains. Built from 100-percent recyclable and biodegradable components, the towers should yield between 10 and 20 gallons of potable water each day, depending on atmospheric conditions.
“Warka tower is demonstrating that we can harvest water from the sky, so water doesn’t only come from the ground,” Vittori says. “This not a new invention but an ancient knowhow that we have lost. Looking back, several cultures have been adopting different strategies to collect water in a sustainable way from the air. Warka will also help to rediscover some of these lost traditions, inspiring a new generation of architects to incorporate these techniques in contemporary design.”
The community housing was inspired by ancestral African huts and assembled with native Cameroonian construction methods, employing only locally-sourced wood, bricks, and fibers. Even better, the new dwellings improve upon tradition by adding insulated floors, natural ventilation, and rain-proof roofs.
Before the erection of the Warka village, there were no toilets in the Mvoumagomi range and disease could easily spread through unhygienic practices. Now, compost latrines have been set up to support better sanitation and furnish sustenance for the environment. The liquid human waste is diluted for natural fertilizer, while the solid waste is mixed with soil and dried to create nutrient-rich manure for the Warka garden.
The town’s modular garden is devised to feed the Pygmy people and supply crops to be sold at local markets. It utilizes an efficient irrigation system that pulls water straight from the Warka towers.
Warka Water Inc. got its start after Vittori traveled to the rural high plateau of Ethiopia in February 2012. “I witnessed a dramatic reality: the lack of potable water,” Vittori explains. “…To survive here, women and children walk every day for miles towards shallow and unprotected ponds, where the water is often contaminated with human and animal waste, parasites, and diseases. They collect the water using dry carved gourds and carry the water back in old plastic containers, which are extremely heavy… I made it my mission to find an alternative solution and help these people. This was the genesis of the design of warka tower: an environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable solution for potable water.”
The Cameroonian Warka Village is already operational, with an anticipated completion date of 2022. Warka Water has also finished another community in Ethiopia and has plans for sites in Haiti, Togo, and Colombia.