Of all the thirsty countries in the arid Middle East, perhaps the worst off is Yemen, where the mountainous capital city of Sana’a is rapidly running out of water altogether. What water there is in the country’s cities is often heavily polluted, causing illnesses for people who drink it because they are too poor to buy bottled water. What’s the solution? According to the recent winner of an international prize for urban innovation, Yemenis need to look to their rural past to protect their future of their cities.
Traditional Mountaintop Cisterns
Sabrina Faber, a longtime resident of Yemen, noticed while trekking in the countryside that rural residents still employed a traditional way of coping with the country’s frequent water shortages: collecting rainwater on mountaintop cisterns. She proposed a variation on this idea for Yemen’s cities in her winning entry for the Phillips Livable Cities Award:
Today, many of Yemen’s cisterns are in a state of disrepair, or in areas of the country that are now uninhabited. However, Sabrina’s RAINS proposal revisits the traditional Yemeni technique of harvesting rainwater from flat rooftops. Her scheme proposes the modification of the existing structures in Sana’a to capture, filter, and store rainwater. Each modified cistern would be capable of generating 10,000 to 50,000 liters of clean, dependable water for domestic use annually.
‘Practical Ideas For People In Cities’
Launched in May 2010, the Philips Livable Cities Award seeks to “generate practical, achievable ideas for improving the health and well-being of people living in cities.” This year’s contest drew 450 ideas from 29 countries, eight of which were selected as finalists. A public vote and judging by an expert panel crowned Faber’s “Rainwater Aggregation for Yemen” the overall winner at a ceremony this week in Amsterdam, granting her €75,000 (about $125,000) to start working with local contractors and associations to begin implementing the idea on Sana’a buildings.
Second-place winner Manuel Rapoport‘s project will create safe, portable recreational areas in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by closing streets to motorized traffic on weekends and during public holidays. Other finalists with an environmental bent proposed hosting a competition for designs to transform neglected spaces in Binghamton, New York, and powering streetlights with wind and solar energy.