Meet the people behind the best technology designed for the developing world
Ewa Wojkowska
Friday, October 29, 2010 - 15:05

By Ewa Wojkowska
Co-Founder and COO

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Piet Hendrikse, Q-Drum

Transportation of water is one of the most arduous—and often dangerous—tasks in the developing world. And now a simple solution, which may prove as significant as the invention of the wheel, is changing the way people in developing countries transport up to 50 liters (more than 13 gallons) of water for cooking, cleaning and drinking. The Q Drum is a large, circular container with a hole in the middle, through which, co-inventor Piet Hendrikse points out: “Anything can pull it along—old clothes, rope, twine.”

It’s so brilliantly simple, many have been baffled this has not already been in use for some time.

In fact, production of the Q Drum proved more challenging than originally anticipated. The solution had to be simple. Water in adequate quantities is too heavy to carry. By rolling the water in a cylindrical container and not lifting and carrying it seemed to be the only solution “To manufacture the hole in the middle, the only method was through rotational molding which is a slow process and therefore more expensive,” said Hendrikse. Another challenge? The thick walls of the Q Drum.

“It has to be extremely durable,” Piet Hendrikse said. "It can't be thin. This also pushes up the cost".

Now in circulation, the Q Drum is addressing a wide and common problem. For Hendrikse, its one he has seen firsthand.

“I live in the northern part of South Africa,” Hendrikse explained, “and frequently used to drive 30 kilometers outside the town I live in. I’d drive through villages and see people with wheelbarrows and old water drums that they push along to transport their daily water, but these mechanisms don’t last long. I thought—there must be some way to simplify this.”

“My brother visited one day and I mentioned the problem to him and then we thought—why not put a hole in the middle and add a rope? But a big stumbling block was how to manufacture this. I made a prototype and gave it to people in a village. They were crazy about this thing!”

And so the Q Drum has transformed the centuries - old drudgery of fetching water into something akin to fun.

"Even a child can pull a 50 litre drum over flat terrain for several kilometres without undue strain. More water per journey can be transported with less effort, reducing the need and usefulness of extra hands - smaller families can improve the quality of life of communities and put less of a strain on the environment. In this sense the contribution the Q Drum can make to society goes beyond addressing the problems of rural poverty and the needs of displaced people, it can make a difference in the effort to preserve our environment."

When the Q Drum was included in the Cooper- Hewitt’s “Design for the Other 90 Percent” exhibition, global interest in this simple water transportation solution skyrocketed.

“After the exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt, it really started to get going and now we have interest from all over the world,” commented Hendrikse. But distribution remains a stumbling block for the Q-Drum. “With shipping and freight costs, if you send five or ten Q-Drums, then shipping costs more than the drums themselves,” Hendrikse said. “This is still a big problem for us.”

Hendrikse is exploring partnerships with a number of international organizations and donors, in an effort to drive the cost down and most affordably get the Q-Drum to the people who need it most.

“Working with organizations like Kopernik is part of our distribution effort,” commented Hendrikse. “But it all takes time.” "The problem is that those who need it can't afford it and those who can don't need it."

But in action, the Q Drum delivers. Hendrikse calls it “Africa-proof” and the miles the Q Drum can log attests its staying power.

“The average Q-Drum will last at least five years,” Hendrikse said. “I've seen one that has lasted eight years. It's been used every day, pulled over six kilometers. It has hardly any wear and tear—and is still going strong!”