Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2012
Isla Urbana


This profile was prepared when Enrique Lomnitz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Enrique is solving the problem of water supply in Mexico with a system that collects rainwater and complements the existing water supply network. Severe strains on the current system, above all in the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City, mean that the aquifers and other natural supplies are not sufficiently replenished thereby causing shortages that affect the population. There is strong demand for Enrique’s rainwater catchment systems from Mexico City residents given their problems with water scarcity. This demand has resulted in the rapid growth of Urban Island and the installation of the organization’s water capture systems. The rain collection systems provide water for at least five or six months every year. Not only does this recharge the aquifer, but it also decreases the problems of flooding attributable to the saturation of Mexico City’s enormous sewage system. Unlike other models of rainwater capture, this model can be adapted to any kind of home so its impact would not be limited to just the elite social classes meaning rainwater capture could become a common practice for all of the city’s citizens.

With this model, Enrique also makes citizens responsible and technologically capable to care for and replenish the water supply. He trains architects, plumbers, engineers, and local community groups to reproduce the model on their own. Through negotiations with local governments, Enrique has successfully financed the installation of these systems through a strategy of collaborative construction that reduces installation costs and promotes the use of raw materials in the home. Still, in order to ensure that communities are committed to maintaining the system, Enrique and his team are implementing a variety of financial models and incentives that increase the adoption rate of the water capture systems especially among low-income communities vulnerable to the water crisis.

Although his early work has been with the hardest hit communities, Enrique plans to implement his strategy with all sectors of society. In addition, Urban Island is helping to install water catchment systems in rural indigenous communities, exploring methodologies to achieve participation of communities typically resistant to outside influence. So far, his water capture system is being replicated independently in several communities that he’s worked with. Enrique envisions that Mexico City will be full of rainwater capture systems so in the rainy season, instead of water shortages and flooding problems, there will be two million water tanks in the Valley of Mexico reliably providing water to the residents.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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