in the south region of cameroon, deep in the tropical rainforest, lies the pygmee bagyeli community of the village mvoungangomi. the village is located about 40 kilometers from the port town of kribi by canoe, and requires an additional half hour walk through thick bush to access. roads are nonexistent, making transportation and communication nearly impossible. during the rainy season, the village faces increased dangers from flooding.
it is here that arturo vittori, founder of non-profit organization warka water and winner of THE DESIGN PRIZE 2019 for social impact, has established his latest work. designboom recently spoke with vittori about warka water’s mission to sustainably bring potable water, and proper sanitation and hygiene to some of the world’s most isolated communities. vittori also shared with us the story of pygmy peoples, and his intention to fuse local knowledge and resources, visionary design and architecture, and ancient traditions to help the inhabitants of this community in cameroon.
‘warka house’ has been built for the pygmy community of mvoumagomi, who live in the south province of cameroon
the pygmy peoples of central africa are the principal hunter-gatherers of the tropical rainforest. inhabitants live in communities of 30 people on average — 100 at most — and establish temporary camps comprising huts constructed from bent and woven branches wrapped in large leaves. everyone plays an important role in the community ecosystem, and the group is communal, making decisions by consensus.
the dwelling provides substantially better shelter for the village’s inhabitants
men hunt in the surrounding forest, using poisoned arrows and spears, and are taught to fish at an early age, using unique local knowledge. they disperse a chemical created from crushed plant material downstream — a non-toxic substance, which deprives fish of oxygen and makes them float to the surface to be easily collected. women participate in dam fishing, removing water from a dammed area and collecting the fish from the exposed riverbed. children and adolescent girls often accompany them and help watch over the infants. women are also largely responsible for cultivating plants, such as plantains, cassavas, and bananas, and also practice beekeeping.
the structure is constructed using ancient local traditions
a simple communal shelter serves as a main camp for the villagers. during the rainy season, they collect water in basins and buckets to keep the bare dirt floor dry. during the dry season, it is common for the group to move and set camp within the forest, where men hunt from dawn until dusk and women gather fruits. the villagers will remain in one area until it is hunted out; then, it abandons the camp and settles down in a different part of the forest.
local knowledge and resources meets visionary design and architecture
the pygmy peoples of south cameroon are semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers. sadly, their world is increasingly diminishing — they have been squeezed between conservation areas, and land handed over to companies for oil palm and rubber tree exploitation. their health is deteriorating, as mosquitoes are rife among the plantations, andtheir general nutrition has suffered radically due to compromised access to their traditional forest foods.
the pygmy people of central africa are the principal hunter-gatherers of the tropical rainforest
to obtain drinking water, villagers must make a half hour trek to the lobe river — a task that falls primarily to women, but also children. they walk barefoot through thick forest to reach the river, careful not to slip into crocodile infested water. water quality can be unpredictable, while storage — in open pots or buckets in the camp — also poses problems. the community is in constant dangers of consuming contaminated water.
this makes warka water’s mission so pertinent: providing a sustainable solution for easily-accessible drinking water for mvoumagomi, and ensuring a safer, healthier life for all the villagers, is imperative.
‘warka house’ has an insulated floor and proper roof that prevents rainwater from dripping inside
furthermore, in the village of mvoumagomi, toilets do not exist. the community uses the forest ‘when nature calls’ — a practice which poses health risks. the presence of toilets is urgently needed to provide sustainable sanitation, and give the villagers a sense of dignity, and security. a toilet is not a luxury, but an essential necessity for good hygiene and disease prevention for the entire community.
internally, the dwelling will offer higher standards of hygiene and comfort for the inhabitants of the community
warka house, pictured throughout the article, provides substantially better shelter with an insulated floor and proper roof that prevents rainwater from dripping inside. the structure is constructed using ancient local traditions of working with bamboo and other natural materials by the villagers themselves. the upgraded dwelling will offer higher standards of hygiene and comfort for the inhabitants of this isolated community.
natural materials have been used in the construction of the roof
meanwhile, the warka toilet is designed from simple, sustainable materials indigenous to the region — earth, palm leaves and wood — and built using local techniques. two separate sides provide facilities for men and women. liquid waste and solid waste are separated and, instead of flushing the toilet, soil is added to the hole so that excrement dries out quicker. once the solid waste is dry, the resulting manure becomes a natural fertilizer for the ground.
leaves are carefully woven to create a solid and rain-proof roof
‘the fact that I am directly involved in the field activities gives me a much more clear understanding of the situation — there is so much we can do,’ vittori tells us. ‘my motivation, in terms of helping rural communities, is growing. an important change has been being more attentive to the real issues of our contemporary sociality, and dedicating time to finding better solutions to help these situations.’
see how you can contribute to the project, and support warka water’s mission on its official website, here.
bamboo has been used to create a rigid and secure structure
the villagers have worked with bamboo and other natural materials in the construction of the house
people typically live inside huts constructed from bent and woven branches wrapped in large leaves (left)
‘warka house’ is one of the two projects warka water is working on in cameroon
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