The Hippo Roller Improves Access to Water in Africa


PALATINE, Illinois — Water insecurity is a growing issue in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Global Citizen, “Of the 783 million people who are without access to clean water, 40% live in sub-Saharan Africa.” However, the Hippo Roller and similar inventions are helping the region move toward a more stable future with improved water access.

Water Access Issues in Africa

Poverty is a significant barrier in water access as impoverished people simply cannot afford the cost of running water and impoverished countries do not have the funds to put in place adequate water infrastructure. Natural disasters as well as flooding and droughts also impact water access. A growing population also puts strain on water and water-related resources.

Due to inadequate water resources and infrastructure, sub-Saharan Africa loses 5% of its yearly GDP. The time individuals in sub-Saharan Africa spend collecting water amounts to 40 billion hours that could otherwise be spent more productively. This time could go toward education and paid work endeavors that help break cycles of poverty.

With the United Nations warning that the world could face further shortages in water by the next decade, Africa has still not seen the worst of its water problems. Africa will likely carry the burden of this new wave of shortages. As such, the African continent desperately needs new solutions to improve water access.

A Potential Solution

In 1991, two South Africans designed the Hippo Roller. The roller is described as a “reimagined wheelbarrow.” The main component of the Hippo Roller is essentially a bucket on wheels. The invention allows families to collect and carry five times more water to their homes. When someone pushes the handle and rolls the Hippo Roller through water, the drum collects and stores the water. Then, instead of having to carry multiple heavy buckets, individuals can simply roll the Hippo Roller back to their homes, saving time and effort. Other than a few minor upgrades to the design, “the original design remains primarily unchanged” since 1991.

Today, this innovative drum helps many in need. In fact, more than 60,000 Hippo Rollers are in use throughout Africa. The invention helps a minimum of 600,000 people attain access to more than three billion liters of water per year. The Hippo Roller has been especially important during COVID-19 as access to water is necessary for maintaining hygiene practices and protecting families from the virus.

Other Inventions Improving Water Access

While the Hippo Roller itself is innovative in providing water for tens of thousands of people, other inventions are also providing an ocean of opportunities for Africans to access water.

  • The Drinkable Book gives readers information on how to keep their water healthy to drink, which is often a difficulty for many Africans. The book’s pages serve as water filters that remove more than 99.9% of bacteria from drinking water.
  • Fog collectors are large nets made out of mesh that retrieve condensation from the fog. Water can be harvested from condensation. In Morocco alone, fog collecting is able to harvest more than 6,000 liters of water a day, helping thousands of families to access water.
  • Solar-powered water pumps use energy from the sun to pump out groundwater, allowing farmers to enhance their irrigation methods quickly and cheaply. Farmers can also “sell excess power back to the grid,” encouraging farmers to conserve water and increasing their income at the same time.
  • The WaterSeer uses a wind turbine to send air into a chamber. The chamber cools the warm air into vapor, which condenses into water on the side of the chamber. In ideal weather, the WaterSeer can produce more than 30 liters of water per day.

Moving Forward

Today, the Hippo Roller is in use in 51 countries. It has helped hundreds of thousands of people gain access to water. The Hippo Roller initiative has worked with 17 partners and several donors to extend the reach of its product. In short, the Hippo Roller has transformed from an idea to a large-scale business.

However, the Hippo Roller program is far from finished. The project aims to gain support to secure funding to extend its reach even further into new regions. This would potentially allow millions of more people to gain access to the product, improving global water access even further.

The current water crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is a significant concern since access to water links to economic growth and development. However, inventions such as the Hippo Roller provide a flood of new possibilities, allowing disadvantaged people to gain access to water.

Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr


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