Worldwide, more than 1 billion people lack reliable access to a safe water source.
Cynthia Koenig could barely lift her 5-gallon bucket of water, much less carry it 2 miles. By the time she arrived at her home in rural Guatemala, most of her water—her day’s ration for cooking and drinking—had splashed out.
Although the ecotourism work that took Koenig to Guatemala was unrelated to water issues, it was hard to ignore the toll that water collection took on those in her community.
“The task of collecting enough water to meet a family’s basic needs often falls to women, who spend up to several hours each day hauling heavy containers of water over long distances,” Koenig says.
Worldwide, more than 1 billion people lack reliable access to a safe water source, according to the World Water Council. On average, the trek to a clean water source is more than 3 miles. Once there, collection vestibules are limited to plastic, steel or clay pots. Koenig learned firsthand that these options are neither efficient nor ergonomic.
“Years later, in a graduate school course, I started thinking about water collection,” Koenig says. “How could I reduce the time and physical burden?”
Koenig developed the WaterWheel, a 45-liter reinforced orb set on an axle to allow the user to roll water from its source. The design was lauded, and stakeholders clamored to invest in Wello, Koenig’s new social venture based in India.
Since 2012 Wello has helped more than 75,000 people around the world obtain WaterWheels, enabling them to access the United Nations’ basic health standard of 20 liters per person, per day. WaterWheel users also report a significant reduction in chronic pain now that they no longer carry heavy pots of water on their heads. For these populations, health truly is wealth: After obtaining a WaterWheel, users report increases in income ranging from 20 to 120 percent.
“By using the WaterWheel, people reduce the time they spend on water collection by nearly 50 percent,” Koenig says. “This means more time to take up a job, go to school or pursue other opportunities.”