Easing the water carriers’ burden

February 20, 2022

Adopting an innovative solution can directly improve millions of lives and incentivise more innovation

Easing the water carriers’ burden

The civil society in Pakistan took three decades to emulate an innovation in Africa where water roller barrels were introduced in 1991, relieving women in water scarce areas of their burden of carrying water pots on their heads.

In Pakistan, too, women and girls have been traditionally responsible for water supply for the household. On average, 72 percent of household water is collected by women and 14 percent by children. Poor sanitation impacts health, productivity and dignity of the users. For some women in desert areas, it is an eight-hour a day exercise.

Worldwide, women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours daily collecting water. It’s a waste of valuable time and effort. Women are often responsible for fetching water and using it for domestic chores, such as cleaning, cooking and washing.

But water is not easily available everywhere. According to the UNICEF, 2.2 billion people still lack access to safe, readily available water at home. The continent of Africa is the worst area in this regard as many communities there are forced to carry water to their homes over long distances. This daily struggle for the rural communities in South Africa was heartbreaking for Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, two South African engineers. They realised that carrying 60 litres of water over one’s head or in one’s arms every day, in three round trips was a heavy burden for three out of ten people in Africa (all women).

To lighten this burden, Petzer and Jonker invented the Hippo Roller, a huge plastic barrel that brings all the water back in one trip by rolling it. The product is simple: a plastic can is placed on its side for it to roll. It is held by two steel arms that join to form a handle. Called Hippo Roller, the large blue barrel can carry 90 litres of water.

Water scarcity is an important issue in Pakistan, too. Farmers complain of short supplies from the canals. Industries pay a very high price for the resource, particularly in Sindh. Rural women in many places travel long distances to fetch it.

Rapid urbanisation and high population growth rate directly impact water demand for domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors. In Pakistan, 93 percent of the available water is used for agriculture, 3 percent for industry and the remaining 4 percent by the domestic sector.

The quality of drinking water is another issue. The provincial governments and non-government organisations have installed water purification plants where underground water is available.

There are, however, some regions where underground water is not available for miles at end. These regions include: the Cholistan desert, locally known as Rohi, which is a large desert in the southern part of the Punjab and Pakistani part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends from Sindh to the Indian state of Rajasthan.

In this desert, women perform the duty of fetching water by walking miles daily. It is a time-consuming and laborious job. The tradition is centuries old. No innovation was made in our country to solve this problem.

The impact of the Water Roller has been enormous. It is now being used in more than 50 countries. Today 60,000 rollers are benefitting at least 600,000 people across the world. It has been efficiently replicated in Pakistan as well.

In 1991, a social organisation brought the Hippo Water Roller. Their effort provided a huge relief to millions of people in rural areas. The Water Roller project enabled women, children and the elderly to collect five-times more water than a bucket carried manually, by rolling it along the ground.

The idea of Water Roller was introduced in Africa 27 years ago and is still serving communities. Nelson Mandela, the great revolutionary and South Africa president, had also endorsed the project and asked the national organisations and the corporate sector to support the project. He had said, “A personal appeal is made to your organisation to actively support a national project which will positively change the lives of millions of our fellow South Africans.”

The impact of the Hippo Water Roller has been enormous. It is now being used in more than 50 countries. Today 60,000 rollers are benefitting at least 600,000 people across the world. The roller has been efficiently replicated in Pakistan too after Bayer Pakistan and Tayaba Organisation joined hands to alleviate the burden of rural communities facing acute water shortage and water transportation challenges.

In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Number 6 (the provision of clean water and sanitation), they launched the project of distributing Water Wheels in rural areas. They have distributed 2,000 Water Wheels to directly benefit 1,400 families and many more indirectly in the rural areas of Sindh and the Punjab. The project has been endorsed by the water ministry. This project offers not only hygienic transportation to the local communities but also hygienic storage for water and is likely to help reduce the incidence of water borne diseases.

In Pakistan, water wheels made on the pattern of Hippo water rollers are 40-litre containers with handles which enable people to roll water from its source rather than carry it on their heads in terracotta pots, which are not only heavy but also have a limited capacity. The wheels are designed for use in tough conditions (rolling 90-litre barrels was not feasible on rough desert terrains in Pakistan). Its lifespan is approximately seven years. It can be recycled and has many other uses such as storage bin, flowerpot, feeding or watering troughs for animals and a bath for washing clothes and small children.

The project can remove the physical burden from women and children, thereby reducing injury. This can also have a far-reaching impact on agriculture and food security as well as health and hygiene.

Dr Imran Ahmed Khan, the chief executive and managing director of Bayer Pakistan, believes that designs like Water Wheels are an effective solution to local challenges. While one should commend the efforts of this partnership, the enormity of the problem requires that other corporate entities join hands with the pioneers to make these Water Wheels available to the millions of water-carrying women in Pakistan.

The project is expected to ease the burden on the water-scarce communities in Pakistan. In turn, it can result in economic well-being. The importance of Water Wheels has increased in recent times amid the pandemic.

The communities lacking adequate water infrastructure can help local families by improving their hygiene through improved access to water.

A dedicated project can ease the lives of millions of people and at the same time be an incentive for others to look for innovative solutions to local challenges. Pakistan is home to many communities that face challenges in different spheres. The Water Wheel project gives us hope that we can find solutions to the challenges. All of us have a responsibility to help our under-privileged communities by any means possible.

The writer is a staff member of The News International

Easing the water carriers’ burden