Imminent water shortages have been the Malthusian bugaboo for almost a decade now—and lately the anxiety over them has been picking up. As the world population increases and climate change dries up some water sources, the argument goes, scare water resources will create conflict and drought. But the only thing as constant as Malthusian fears is human ingenuity, as this piece in the Smithsonian magazine on new water technology shows. Tuan Nguyen profiles the Warka Water, a new invention by Arturo Vittori that collects water right out the air. Here’s how the structure works:
The rigid outer housing of each tower is comprised of lightweight and elastic juncus stalks, woven in a pattern that offers stability in the face of strong wind gusts while still allowing air to flow through. A mesh net made of nylon or polypropylene, which calls to mind a large Chinese lantern, hangs inside, collecting droplets of dew that form along the surface. As cold air condenses, the droplets roll down into a container at the bottom of the tower. The water in the container then passes through a tube that functions as a faucet, carrying the water to those waiting on the ground.
Warka Water isn’t the first invention that promises to ameliorate third world water shortages. Bill Gates, for example, has worked on a project to convert toilet water into drinking water, and others have pursued innovations that work similarly to the Warka Water. But to date, Vittori’s tower is one of the most efficient and cheap ways to get clean water to where it’s needed. No doubt in the future even this idea will be improved upon, and we will find yet cheaper and easier ways to deliver the same resources. There is a simple lesson here, but it’s one that grim prophets of doom never seem to realize. The human ability to create, innovate, and adapt to changing conditions is constant overcomes “existential threats.” That’s not likely to change anytime soon.