Rolling the Way to Better Water Access

| By Editorial Staff

Women with Hippo Water RollersMost of Annie Lekuane’s life consisted of carrying heavy buckets of water every day so her family could have clean water to drink. Now, she uses a simple but life-changing rollable barrel called the Hippo Water Roller to collect, move and store the water that she needs at her home in rural Mooiplaas, South Africa.

“It’s not so heavy as carrying two buckets, and it takes maybe two days before it is empty,” Lekuane told CCTV Africa reporter Julie Scheier. “If you haven’t got water, you can’t do anything.”

The Hippo Water Roller is a 90-liter polyethylene drum with a tightly-fitted lid and a detachable steel handle that allows it to be pushed along in front of the person using it. This design lets individuals transport two to three times more water than they could by carrying buckets or other open containers.

Invented in South Africa by engineers Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, the Hippo Water Roller has been distributed to more than 20 countries and has been used to haul billions of gallons of water. The Hippo Water Roller Project is the effort to get these to all the communities that might benefit from having the barrels.

The Need for Drinkable Water

Most Westerners have a difficult time fully comprehending just what an impact easier access to clean water has on a rural community in the Third World. The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people lack access to any kind of drinkable water. UNICEF estimates nearly 1,000 children die every day from waterborne illnesses.

While the Hippo Roller itself doesn’t purify water, it does make it easier for people to walk longer distances to access drinkable water, and store the water needed for one household for longer than a day. And with the addition of a specially designed utility cap with a filter, the water can be made potable.

Easing the Burden of Water Transport

In many parts of Africa, Asia and South America, women are responsible for collecting water — and some walk for miles each day to get what their families need. They take their children along, as the older ones can carry additional buckets and the younger ones cannot be left alone for hours at home.

Kids with Hippo Water RollersThis means that women have no time in their days to do anything for self-improvement or health. Their days are spent seeking and walking with heavy containers of water. The children cannot attend school because of their long journeys on foot each day.

But the Hippo Roller has an impact here, too. Rolling the weight rather than carrying it on the head or back, as women and children have traditionally done in communities around the world, protects the body — especially the spine — from the uncomfortable effects of lugging that much weight every day. It’s also significantly faster to push the rolling barrel along rough terrain, and it’s easy enough that kids can help do it. The amount the barrel holds means that trips to collect water can be made less frequently.

One side benefit of distributing the Rollers is that men find the technology more socially acceptable to use, and are more willing to assist with water collection efforts.

Other Uses for the Hippo Roller

Man with Hippo Water RollerCreative and ingenuous people have found even more uses for the Hippo Roller. The barrels are lightweight but extremely durable, so they can be used to transport food and household goods. Here are some other uses:

  • An irrigation cap permits drip irrigation, helping small farmers to grow food for their families.
  • A steel frame that attaches to the Roller can be used to transport sick or wounded people for medical care.
  • The same frame can make the Roller into a trolley for transporting products, aiding small shopkeepers and women selling at local markets. The frame converts into a stand for product display.
  • In limited cases, the Roller has been filled with water and used to detect abandoned land mines, because it will absorb most of the blast.

There remains a need to fund and distribute the Hippo Water Rollers to more and more communities. Each Roller costs about $75, and can be donated through or the Africa Foundation.


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