Reinventing the Wheel To Prevent Rural Women From Carrying Water on Their Heads


Water wheels: You will kick yourself for not having thought of it yourself!

Water Scarcity is the biggest problem being faced by the world today. Shortage of freshwater resources like lakes, streams and rivers and then depletion of groundwater resources by mankind for their increasing demand attributes to the primary cause of water shortage. Recently, Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012 and one of the ideas of combating the increasing demand of water and lowering the pressure on rural women by  Cynthiya Koenig was an eye-opener. I totally admire the concept and would want it to reach out to the people. It is a pity and a wonder that it has not been though of before.

It has been shown in the video that, in India, the water scenario is worse when compared to other countries of the world. 1 in 7 people live more than a kilometer away from the water source that they drink. Women carry water from one point to another. They struggle to collect water, i.e. 20 litres per day per person that an individual needs to stay healthy and hydrated. Other than this the water is used for domestic purposes like cooking,washing and cleaning. But, unfortunately these women are only able to provide 5 litres per person per day to their families.

The main problem with collection of water is that the water is heavy i.e. 5 gallons = 42 pounds of checked luggage. This causes chronic pain in head, neck, back and shoulders. It also leads to compression in curvature of spinal cord and can lead to death during child birth. Moreover, the water collected is not safe to drink. 80% of global disease burden is caused by water-borne illness. Easiest way to combat it is to wash hands, but when you only have 5 litres per person per day, then it’s nearly impossible to maintain the standards of hygiene. Secondly collection of water is quite time consuming. Women spent their 25% of time each day i.e. 6 hours to collect this water. There are better things to do rather than wasting so much time in water collection. Studies have shown that 75% of girls aged 15-17 in Rajasthan drop out of school because of pressure on their time.

TEDx Gateways speaker believed in the need to re-frame the problem of water crisis and introduced “Water Wheels”. It is an amazing concept where the water can just be pushed in a container and not carried on head. The storage capacity of the wheel is quite much. A woman has to make just 1 round per day to meet the water demand of her family. Some more benefits are:

  • A woman is able to save 35 hours per week
  • It is convenient and easy to push and can roll over rough rocky terrain like in Rajasthan
  • The water stored in it remains clean and hygienic
  • It is made up high quality-durable material. Plus, it is aesthetically pleasing- is in matka form
  • It is affordable too. Costs somewhat 750-100 INR
  • Can be used for filtration, drip irrigation and energy generation. What if you can just roll it over and use it for charging your phone?
  • The free space above the wheel can be used for advertising purposes. Reminders like –‘Hey don’t forget to wash your hands, now that you have so much water!’

I believe this innovation by TEDx Gateways and Water Wheels is a fabulous step forward to help people in rural areas. It is helping them in a cleaner access to water without compromising on their time and health. One billion people on the planet lack reliable access to safe water. This initiative will thus contribute to more girls attending school and less problems faced by them during their later stages of life. In addition to that, more water availability will ensure high standards of hygiene, thus leading to less deaths by water borne diseases. Water Wheels is a break-through innovation and should definitely be brought into use since time is money and people value convenience.

Ritika Kapoor

Ritika Kapoor is a researcher at the Euro Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change, Bologna, Italy with advanced degrees from Furgusson College, Pune and University of Delhi.

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