Water on wheels in Africa

Hippo Water Roller Project
South Africa (Johannesburg)

The Hippo Water Roller proves an idea doesn’t have to be technologically complicated to be useful. The water on wheels technology was created back in 1991 by two South Africans, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker. Growing up on farms, they had seen the effect of the water crisis on rural communities, where access to water is a daily struggle for millions.

Designed in Africa for Africa, the 90 litres (24 gallons) reimagined wheelbarrow enables women, children and the elderly to collect five times more water than a single bucket by simply rolling it along the ground. The innovation frees up more time for education, household tasks and food production. In contrast to the erosion of footpaths caused by the narrow wheels of wheelbarrows, the wide rolling surface of the Hippo roller drum helps to compact the soil and protect these pathways.

Specifically designed for use in tough rural conditions, the hippo roller has a lifespan of approximately seven years. Although its plastic can be recycled, once the Hippo roller is damaged, it has many other uses, such as storage bins, flower pots, feeding or watering troughs for animals or a bath for washing clothes and small children.

In her 2016/ 2017 budget speech on 11 May 2016, Deputy Minister Pamela Tshwete of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) announced detailed plans to aid those unable to cope with the current drought, including the Hippo Water Roller: “In our continued engagements with municipalities, we have observed that there are still some communities located very far from water sources especially in the rural areas and informal settlements,” explains Tshwete. “In these communities many people carry water to their homes often over long distances, pay heavy fees for the transportation and this has proved to be time consuming especially to the girl child.”

Former president Nelson Mandela gave the project his personal endorsement, appealing to the private and corporate sectors, as well as donors, to actively support it: “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 broad social impact of the project has since been felt in more than 20 other countries, benefitting at least 300,000 people.

Celebrate 25 years of the hippo roller, learn how to give water and watch the hippos handled here:

Written by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future (19 May 2016)

Project leader

Grant Gibbs, Executive Director

Creative Commons License



  1. Henry

    Nice article.

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