A simple idea which changed the lives of millions

I’m about 20 years late in burbling with excitement over this simple tool. But better late than never. Let me introduce the Hippo Roller.

It’s a heavy-duty, 90-litre (24 gallon), plastic drum with a long metal handle.

You fill the drum with water, whack on the cap, and roll it home.

Simple. Why didn’t I think of that?

It’s a lot easier for women than carrying a plastic bucket on your head with 20 litres of water sloshing inside, up hill and down dale, perhaps for kilometres.

In Africa, 40 percent of the poorest households do not have piped-in water, and more than half of its population lack access to improved water sources such as boreholes, wells, or taps. We don’t think much about water; millions of Africans think about it all the time.

The Hippo Roller is the brainchild of two South African engineers, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, who saw how rural villagers suffered in a drought. They started marketing it in 1994.

Women, children and the elderly can use it to transport five times as much water more easily, even over rough terrain.

Former South African President, Nelson Mandela said that the simple device would “positively change the lives of millions of our fellow South Africans".

More than South Africans, actually. About 50,000 Hippo Rollers are being used in 20 countries in Africa and in Haiti. The benefits are significant. It reduces head and spinal damage, improves irrigation, makes the elderly less dependent... but above all, it saves time. It gives children more time for education; it makes women more available for economic activity.

Grant Gibbs, the executive director of the Hippo Roller Project, the non-profit which markets it, says that it boosts people’s dignity. “In South Sudan, where I interviewed a teenage girl,” he said,  “I asked why she liked the Hippo Roller so much and she responded without hesitation: ‘Because now I can look like a city girl.’” She explained that she could not braid her hair to look attractive if she had to carry buckets of water on her head.

The Hippo Roller Project’s motto is “Simple Ideas. Changing Lives”. It is marketing the device, which costs about US125, through NGOs.

Simple things are often the best ideas. Remember that.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 


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