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The South African Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) through its Technology Research and Development (TRD) Chief Directorate identified Hippo water rollers as an appropriate technology that can be rolled out in most rural areas in South Africa facing the challenge of water supply.

“Hippo water rollers were well accepted by all the beneficiaries. It is indeed an appropriate innovative technology for most rural areas in South Africa.”

The DRDLR has been given the mandate by the President of South Africa to develop and implement a Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP) throughout the country, focused on enabling rural people to take control of their destiny, with the support from government, and thereby dealing effectively with rural poverty through the optimal use and management of natural resources.

We are strongly encouraged by the decision of the South African government to include the Hippo water roller in its rural development strategy.

Clothes are routinely washed in rivers, this is the normal practice in rural areas by rural communities, since the implementation of water rollers, community members are able to fetch water in large quantities to enable them to wash in their house-holds.

“The benefits of this South African award winning innovation are immediate and so is its potential to impact positively on the long-term negative effects of not having access to clean water.”


  • Not every individual has a wheelbarrow in possession; the introduction of Hippo rollers enables the beneficiaries to easily carry the water aided by the rollers.
  • Often water is normally fetched by women and/or children especially girls of child-bearing age, this stereotype has changed drastically since the introduction of the intervention in that even males assist in fetching water, this is because it can easily be rolled which makes carrying on the head a myth.
  • A larger capacity of water can be fetched and this would cover for all house-hold activities, i.e. cleaning, cooking, bathing and irrigation of backyard crops.
  • The adoption of this technology has reduced incidents of spinal pains, backaches and hand blisters caused by carrying heavy 20 L buckets of water.

Kids also find delight in collecting water using the Hippo water roller. An innovative toy to rural kids.

“The Hippo water roller… is not intended to replace the government’s plan to supply all South Africans with water, but it is an interim measure to help communities who have not yet received piped water, or where piped water is at a distance from homes.”


Rural areas are characterized by scattered households located predominantly on hillsides above the flood planes to avert sub-tropical diseases associated with humid climates and water bodies.

Up to 2,7 million people (6% of the national population) live in such scattered patterns, currently clustered into over 15,000 groupings of settlements. (The Eastern Cape Economic Profile and Outlook, 2010).

February 2013 Hippo Roller Update:

Here is a glimpse of the Water for Thought: Life-Changing Design exhibition currently running in London (until 23 March 2013).

In the VIDEO below you will see the Hippo water roller at 50 sec. and 1min 50 sec. The video provides background to the exhibition and gives glimpses of the solutions on display.

Water for Thought: Life-Changing Design

London: 25 JANUARY – 23 MARCH 2013

The Hippo water roller is on show at the international exhibition, Water for Thought in London with some of the World’s most innovative product designs for accessing, transporting or purifying water in developing countries.


What is a Hippo Water Roller?

The Hippo Water Roller is a barrel-shaped container. Its innovative design allows for 90 liters (24 gallons) of water to be placed inside a rolling wheel. The water is transported by holding on to the handle with which the drum is pushed or pulled. The effective weight of only 10 kilograms (22 pounds) on level ground requires far less effort from people than carrying the traditional 20-liter (5-gallon) buckets on their heads. The Hippo roller enables people to transport almost five times the amount of water, without having to carry 20 kilograms on their heads. The drum is manufactured from UV stabilized Polyethylene and has been designed to withstand typical rural conditions with an average lifespan of six years. The large opening (135 mm / 5.3 inch diameter) allows for easy filling and cleaning of the interior.The sealed lid ensures hygienic storage of water and the steel handle provides firm control over difficult terrain while pushing or pulling the roller. Extensive field tests over many years and various awards have proven the effectiveness of the Hippo Water Roller.

Additional Uses of the Hippo Roller

  • The Hippo roller is used for drip irrigation for example in Zambia where small-scale cotton farmers use the Hippo roller to water their crops.
  • A wireframe that has been designed to attach on to the roller, transforms the device into a movable casualty bed for the sick or wounded.
  • The same wireframe turns it into a transportable ‘spaza’ shop that includes a shade cover as well as a trolley that can be used to transport products to market.
  • The Hippo roller has been used in test cases as an anti-personnel de-mining device, whereby it is rolled along the ground to absorb the blast of land mines when filled with water.


Why is it needed?

“In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is consumed for the most basic of human needs — collecting water for domestic use.” [Learn more…]

Imagine waking up long before sunrise and then walking for more than two hours to the nearest river or borehole and then carrying a bucket full of water on your head all the way home! Now imagine you are a woman or a young child and it is your responsibility to carry this heavy bucket of water every day of your life! Sounds melodramatic? This is a reality for millions of women and children around the world who do not have access to fresh water on tap. Many millions of people worldwide, mostly women and children, are forced to walk long distances on a daily basis to collect their water requirements for the day.

Specific water facts on Africa from Consultancy Africa:

  • Two out of every five people in Africa do not have access to clean drinking water.
  • This means that there are currently 461,215,160 people living on the African continent who are at risk of being affected by illnesses caused by dehydration and poor sanitation.
  • The number of people who do not have access to clean water in Africa is equivalent to the total population of the United States (US) and Russia combined.
  • The United Nations (UN) estimates that Sub Saharan Africa loses 40 billion hours each year in activities relating to fetching water, which is the same as a whole year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce in France.
  • Similarly, the average weight of water that is daily carried on the heads of predominantly women is equal to the average traveler’s suitcase.

“A personal appeal is made to your organization to actively support a national project which will positively change the lives of millions of our fellow South Africans.” – Nelson Mandela

Project Overview

The mission of the Hippo Water Roller Project is to improve access to clean water for rural and impoverished households by means of appropriate technologies including the Hippo water roller, improving their quality of life and economic prospects.

More than a billion people worldwide do not enjoy water on tap in or near their homes.

Predominantly women and children are confronted with the daily task of collecting water, often having to walk long distances. Traditional collection methods cause long-term spinal injuries and limit economic opportunities.

The Hippo improves access to water by rolling 90 liters (24 gals.) along the ground.

The roller enables more water to be transported more efficiently than traditional methods. With the Hippo roller people can get almost five times the amount of water, without having to carry 20 kilograms on their heads.

Who benefits?

The Hippo water roller is now in use in 21 African countries including South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The project is also currently involved in assisting people who do not have access to clean drinking water in South America and India. The efficiency of the Hippo roller gives people more time to do other important tasks around the household and allows children to attend school. The consequence of easier access to water is far reaching, with social, health and economic benefits:

Social impact – Extensive amounts of time and energy is saved which can now be directed to other important household tasks. Thanks to the Hippo water roller, women can now braid their hair, which is a practice previously impossible because they had to carry water on their heads. It has also decreased the rate at which women experience hair loss, thus generating higher levels of self-confidence and dignity. Even men, who generally consider collecting water a menial task, are proud of the technology and have started collecting water using the Hippo roller.

Improvements to health and sanitation - More water means a better quality of life through increased hygiene and cleanliness resulting in fewer medical problems. Rolling rather than carrying heavy buckets of water reduces the strain on the skeletal frame reducing the possibilities of physical injury.

Economic productivity – More time, energy and better health are important ingredients for improved productivity, food production and income generation. The roller has given people the opportunity to grow more produce and earn a higher income from the potential increase in sales, due to higher yields.

Small-scale entrepreneurs - by using the Hippo Mobile Spaza, are also able to transport and display their goods more effectively, while at the same time protect their produce from the sun.

The Hippo water roller brings more than just improved access to water! The aim of the Hippo Water Roller Project is to reduce the number of people without adequate access to water by 1% = 10 million people.

Where can it be obtained?

Most rollers are handed out in partnership with NGO’s, corporate businesses and governments with the resources to donate to impoverished communities. Currently, all Hippo Water Rollers are manufactured in and shipped from South Africa. Exporting completed Hippo Water Rollers to other countries where they are needed is expensive, often doubling the cost of a Hippo roller. Limited quantities fit into a container, which severely impacts on shipping costs. Local manufacturing of the Hipporoller is more cost effective over the long term. It requires the once-off shipping of one container that includes a small manufacturing machine. The local manufacturing plant only orders the shipping of raw materials as required. Direct orders of Hippo rollers are facilitated by the Hippo Roller Shop at and is supported by a counter-to-counter air freight courier service to 150 countries.

Project Blog

Grant Gibbs is Project Manager of the Hippo Water Roller Project. Grant provides more in-depth information on the distribution, impact and expansion of the Project at

“My main focus is the manufacturing and distribution of Hippo Water Rollers both locally and internationally with support from Corporate Social Investment, Government, NGO’s and other donor organizations and individuals.” – Grant Gibbs

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