For a lighter burden

{jcomments on}posted by Frank van Steenbergen
October 08, 2012

A common sight in rural areas is long lines of jerry cans, waiting to be filled with water and carried home by women. In their earlier life, the containers carried cooking oil.

They are square and unwieldy – a good enough design to import cooking oil but certainly not to carry water in, on one’s back or on the head. Yet this is what most jerry cans are used for – day after day.  See for example this movie from Tigray, Ethiopia. In fact, in many deprived parts of the world poverty is defined as not having a donkey or any other animal to carry the 20 kilogram load of water.

The ergonomics of the water containers are clearly all wrong. Amazingly however, even though in Africa alone up to 80 million women carry this awkward load daily. Very little research and effort has gone into developing/ promoting alternatives. In a study on women carrying water on their head (not on their back) the prevalence of spinal (incl. neck) pain was 69%. Of back pain it was 38%.


Some alternatives have been developed. There is the ‘water back pack’ – developed with the help of Greif, a packaging industry company. Another alternative is the Hippo Roller – produced in South Africa. This is a barrel that is pushed forward and can carry 90 litres of water. Brilliant though these are, they are yet to be used widely and are not available in local markets.  

So here is a request for fresh ideas on easing the burden of millions of women carrying heavy loads of water on their backs: either ideas to promote existing improved devices, or breakthrough designs as alternative options. TheWaterChannel invites physiotherapists, ergotherapists, rural marketeers and everyone else to send in ideas and proposals – before December 15, 2012. (The entries should include detailed sketches and an explanatory note, no more than one-page long) The best idea will be rewarded with a prize money of 500 Euros. Send in your entries to

October 8, 2012  
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