Along with peak oil, peak water is a phenomenon that is affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide. Water shortages are a very real and extremely scary predicament to a large majority of the world’s people. Such shortages have already started to cause civil wars, displacement and riots in several parts of the world.
Companies focused on alleviating the water crisis are few and far between. Which is why Wello is all the more remarkable. Their product, the WaterWheel, is an innovative water transportation tool designed to make water more accessible. The WaterWheel’s design allows water to be placed inside a “wheel,” allowing 175 pounds of water to be moved with vastly reduced effort. This makes it possible to collect and transport 20 gallons (75 liters) of water by hand – five times the amount possible using traditional methods.
Wello’s website states: “through the application of innovative, appropriate, and low-cost solutions to water transport, storage, and collection, we seek to improve human health and well-being, reduce poverty, and promote the sustainable use of resources.”
According to their research, for 1 in 6 people, access to water requires hard physical labor–hours of walking, waiting in line and heavy lifting. Usually the people that collect water are women. They walk long distances, sometimes up to 5 miles a day and longer during the dry season. This prevents them from using their time to generate income, get an education or even to complete household tasks. In India, the traditional method of carrying water – carrying a 5 gallon (20 liter) water bucket on the head – can severely damage the spine, causing pain and even leading to complications during childbirth.
In some countries, walking to find water exposes people to the dangers of land mines. In several African countries one of the largest reasons to push for sources of potable water supplies closer to home is that in general, the longer the walk, the more the likelihood of being raped on the journey. Worldwide estimates state that as many as one in three women are raped or sexually assaulted.
The WaterWheel aims ease this perilous journey for many women. It was designed to maximize efficiency, hygiene, sustainability and usability. Wello launched its pilot program in Rajasthan, India last year. They have since been contacted by the UN to use their product in trouble stricken Darfur in Sudan.
Unlike the Hippo Roller which is a similar concept to the WaterWheel that retails in Africa for $100, the WaterWheel retails for between $20 to $30 and was developed for the Indian market. Wello is hoping to get the word out by partnering with local nonprofits, governments, and oddly enough, the Indian postal system. “Postal workers are encouraged to sell and distribute products, and they know everyone in the community,” says Cynthia Koenig, founder of Wello. Even with such a low price, Koenig knows that it will be a tough challenge, so she anticipates training local water delivery people who can make enough money from wheeling water back to their villages to pay for the device.
“The magic is in the business model. It’s not necessarily so much cheaper than other products on the market, but our business model is aiming for profitability through scale.”
Wello currently has thin margins, but the venture expects to break even after three years of operation through both sales of the WaterWheel and sales of advertising space on the device.
Image Credit: Josh Dick Photo (original prototype)