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     Jun 20, 2013

Hyppo Water Roller

Learn more about how a simple barrel can change water supply for millions of African farmers and families.

All over the world there is a simple problem from which all communities living in absolute poverty suffer, whether they’re rural communities cut off from the rest of the world or slums clinging to the sides of wealth and prosperity- the problem is always a lack of clean, running water.


Over 1 billion people have inadequate access to water and a further 2 billion only have access around a kilometer away from their own homes.  That’s nearly half the world’s population without direct access to clean running water.


This is an issue which combines both welfare and time.  The average household in the poorest communities consumes around 20 litres of water a day. This is more or less the maximum that the average person can carry at once. However, carrying 20 litres day-in day-out is extremely damaging to a person’s health. If the nearest water supply is two hours away, do you make two trips and save your health, or one trip and still have time to do other things?


The answer to this problematic issue lies with the Hippo Roller, a simple yet revolutionary idea for water transportation that is the brainchild of Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, and has won them many awards and accolades ever since its conception.


Even though it’s from the early 90s, which means that exactly 24 years have passed since this major breakthrough, there have been a few new aspects that are worthy of your attention. But first you might be wondering what exactly is Hippo RollerHow does it workWhy is it so innovativeHow can this really help these people to have better life conditions?


Hippo Roller is a huge water barrel which can be laid on its side and rolled over to a water source and back, using much less effort that it takes to carry 20 litres of water. Technology-wise, there is nothing too fancy about it – it’s actually just a barrel with a handle attached to it – but because it can be rolled along the ground it allows people to transport more water, about 90 litres at once, with much less harm to their health. This enables the community to save both time and effort, as well as giving them larger amounts of storage.



Hipporoller_Studio_shot Hippo Roller model. Image courtesy of Hippo Water Roller Project.




So, essentially, it’s just a traditional way of transporting water, but smarter and more adequately suited to the population’s resources. The design, which has been refined over the years, is hard wearing, durable and almost unbreakable.


If the concept and the materials are so simple, what exactly has changed since then? What has evolved in these past 24 years?


Well, for starters, the simple transportation of water is no longer the only use of the Hippo Roller. Under the guidance of Grant Gibbs, the company has teamed up with other NGOs whose ambition it is to see communities in arid regions start providing for themselves. The idea is to try not to provide them with the fish but, instead, with the fishing rod and see how communities evolve and develop from that point. Ideally, every community would have rainwater harvesting systems and innovative drip irrigation projects.  This would allow the production of crops in dry regions where water is scarce.


Recently, a kind of a mobile factory for the manufacture of Hippo Rollers has been introduced.  This means that they can be manufactured close to the community that they’re destined for, drastically cutting down on transportation and overall costs. And, according to Gibbs, a multinational corporation based in the USA is supporting many small-scale cotton-plant farmers in northern Zambia – some of whom have had to carry heavy buckets of water on their heads for an average of 40 km each day, just to irrigate one hectare of trees. In this particular case, the help provided by Hippo Water Rollers has reached around 700 people and is improving their working conditions, which, in turn, is being translated into significant improvements at home and positively affecting the lives of their entire families.

“This demonstrates the collaboration between funders, implementing agents and developing communities who are empowered through this simple and appropriate technology requiring little or no ongoing project management or costs”, explains Grant Gibbs.


Since 2012, the South African Government, more precisely the Department of Rural Development, has launched an independent assessment on the effect of the Hippo Roller on access to water. The document is available online and read about several different ways that the improvements have been classified: the communities covered; the distance locals have to walk in order to reach potable water; insights into people’s concerns, their motivations and aspirations (which is the methodology used for the study); and, as expected, some conclusions.


“The provision of Hippo rollers to the selected communities created an excitement in these communities, thus, there is a need to supply more Hippo water rollers.”, a recommendation from the HIPPO WATER ROLLER IMPACT ASSESSMENT REPORT – 8 SELECTED SITES (EC), 2012.


Grant takes the independent assessments as product endorsements, as well as proof of the results they have been achieving in the field. More importantly, however, he sees these assessments as evidence of how vital Hippo Water Roller is as a viable mid-term solution. So far, Hippo Roller has succeeded in reaching 20 African countries and has significantly improved the lives of many people. However, in order to expand the project’s reach it’s essential to initiate and develop more partnerships with agents capable of implementing the product’s use, and to network with larger non-governmental organizations.




Image courtesy of Design for Impact.



Hippo Roller started out as a simple and effective way of providing an essential natural resource: water. By doing so, they have shown how trailblazing innovations can help to build secure and self-sufficient communities. Now, they want to reach higher and they really need your help.




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