In some parts of Ethiopia, finding potable water is a six-hour journey.
People in the region spend 40 billion hours a year trying to find and collect water, says a group called the Water Project. And even when they find it, the water is often not safe, collected from ponds or lakes teeming with infectious bacteria, contaminated with animal waste or other harmful substances.
The water scarcity issue—which affects nearly 1 billion people in Africa alone—has drawn the attention of big-name philanthropists like actor and Water.org co-founder Matt Damon and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who, through their respective nonprofits, have poured millions of dollars into research and solutions, coming up with things like a system that converts toilet water to drinking water and a “Re-invent the Toilet Challenge,” among others.
Critics, however, have their doubts about integrating such complex technologies in remote villages that don’t even have access to a local repairman. Costs and maintenance could render many of these ideas impractical.
“If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything,” wrote one critic, Toilets for People founder Jason Kasshe, in a New York Times editorial, “it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work.”
Other low-tech inventions, like this life straw, aren’t as complicated, but still rely on users to find a water source.
It was this dilemma—supplying drinking water in a way that’s both practical and convenient—that served as the impetus for a new product called Warka Water, an inexpensive, easily-assembled structure that extracts gallons of fresh water from the air.
The invention from Arturo Vittori, an industrial designer, and his colleague Andreas Vogler doesn’t involve complicated gadgetry or feats of engineering, but instead relies on basic elements like shape and material and the ways in which they work together.
At first glance, the 30-foot-tall, vase-shaped towers, named after a fig tree native to Ethiopia, have the look and feel of a showy art installation. But every detail, from carefully-placed curves to unique materials, has a functional purpose.
“I could not speak. I became unconscious. I could not open my mouth because then I smelled something terrible … I heard my daughter snoring in a terrible way, very abnormal…. When crossing to my daughter’s bed … I collapsed and fell … I wanted to speak, my breath would not come out…. My daughter was already dead.”
These are the words of Joseph Nkwain, who on August 21, 1986, survived one of the strangest natural disasters in history.
Known locally as “the Bad Lake,” Lake Nyos, located in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, Africa, carried a folklore of danger, and tales were spoken of an evil spirit which emerged from the lake to kill all those who lived near it.
This legend contained the memory of a very real threat.
Lake Nyos was formed in a volcanic crater created as recently as 400 years ago. Crater lakes commonly have high levels of CO2 as they are formed by the volcanic activity happening miles beneath them.
Under normal circumstances this gas is released over time as the lake water turns over.
But Lake Nyos was different: an unusually still lake, with little in the way of environmental agitation. Rather than releasing the gas, the lake was acting as a high-pressure storage unit.
Its deep waters were becoming ever more loaded with gas until more than five gallons of CO2 were dissolved in every gallon of water. Pressurized to the physical limit, Lake Nyos was a time bomb.
On August 21, 1986, something in the lake went off. It is unknown what the trigger was – landslide, small volcanic eruption, or even something as small as cold rain falling on an edge of the lake.
Whatever the cause, the result was catastrophic. In what is known as a Limnic Eruption, the lake literally exploded, sending a fountain of water over 300 feet into the air and creating a small tsunami. But far more deadly than the water was the gas.
Racing Pigeons: Garbage City Hosts World’s Oddest Pastime
In the trash-ridden outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, precariously lofted structures rise up on stilts, home to birds that, come sunset, are set loose as the strange race begins to reroute and capture the free-flying flocks of one’s neighbors.
The goal: to use flags and whistles to navigate your own birds and bring them back to their roost, all while hopefully entrapping your neighbors’ pets in the process.
Photographer Manuel Alvarez Diestro(via CityLab) flew in from London to document this bizarre phenomenon.
Dating as far back as 4,000 years ago in various forms, this sport-like activity involves breeding, raising, releasing and recapturing huge collections of pigeons.
Garbage City, the informal name of the trash-collecting suburbs surrounding Cairo, plays host to many of participants, its lack of building code regular contributing to the unsteady-looking structures used to house the birds.
Wall murals portraying Crusader knights and symbols of medieval military orders have been rediscovered in a Jerusalem hospital thanks to a burst water pipe and a storeroom reorganization.
These paintings were the works of a French count, Comte Marie Paul Amédée de Piellat, who believed himself to be a descendant of Crusaders.
The count was a frequent visitor to Jerusalem and had the Saint-Louis Hospice built between 1879 and 1896, naming it after St. Louis IX, a king of France and leader of the Seventh Crusade between A.D. 1248 and 1254.
During World War I, however, the hospital came under the control of Turkish forces, who painted over the designs with black paint.
The count returned to Jerusalem to restore his murals, but died in the hospital in 1925, his work undone.
A beautiful discovery
More recently, the nuns who run the hospital found some of the forgotten wall paintings while reorganizing storerooms in the building, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
A burst water pipe also stripped away modern paint and plaster, revealing more sections of the paintings.
British-born Gertrude Bell, also referred to as the female Lawrence of Arabia, was an adventurer, spy, archaeologist and powerful political force who travelled into the uncharted Arabian desert and was recruited by British Military Intelligence to help reshape the Middle East after World War I.
She drew the borders of Iraq, helped install its first king and established the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities which was infamously looted during the 2003 American invasion.
A true visionary, she advocated for Iraqi self-rule and openly criticized colonial policy.
Gertrude Bell images, courtesy of the Gertrude Bell Archives, Newcastle University
Gertrude Bell was astonishingly accomplished.
She was one of the most powerful women in the British Empire in the early twentieth century, yet she has been overlooked in much of the history written about this period.
As the first female British intelligence Officer and adviser on Arabian affairs to the British government,
Bell helped shape the geopolitical map of the world as it changed dramatically after World War I.
She was the only woman with a diplomatic role at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and the only woman invited by Winston Churchill to the Cairo Conference in 1921.
Whether you love beautiful scenery or wildlife, Namibia may be the location to plan your next vacation. It is home to the Namib Desert, considered the oldest desert in the world, and is filled with national parks and reserves. Some, including Etosha National Park, are dedicated to wildlife; others focus on beautiful landscapes.
Namib-Naukluft Park, the largest conservation area in Africa and the fourth largest in the world, features the country’s most famous and photogenic natural wonders: towering, 300-meter-tall red sand dunes, the largest in the world.
Namibia, one of the first countries in the world to incorporate environmental protection into its constitution, received the Gift to the Earth Award from the World Wildlife Fund this past October for conservation acheivements.