The Wheel Reinvented – The Q Drum Is An Easy Way To Transport Water In Developing Countries (video)


For people in developing countries, getting clean water to cook with, clean with, and drink, can be a difficult and dangerous task. In rural areas, it often requires miles-long treks to the source and back again with a load weighing upwards of 30 pounds. We’re all familiar with the images of women in developing countries carrying large vessels on their head, which can lead to neck and spinal injuries. Piet Hendrikse wanted to find another way. His solution was the Q Drum.

Essentially a plastic cylinder with a hole through the middle, the Q Drum can be filled with water and rolled along the ground with rope or even old clothes tied together. The outer plastic is durable so that it won’t puncture during long treks over rough terrain. Empty, the Q Drum weighs just under 10 pounds. Filled with water it weighs 120 pounds – try hoisting that back from the river.

Now, even young children can bring back adequate amounts of water.

Water is heavy. The average person can lug up to about 15 liters (almost 4 gallons) of water. The Q Drum has the capacity of 50 liters (over 13 gallons). Q Drum’s lightweight but durable polyethylene material maximizes its weight-carrying efficiency. The hole in the middle becomes a support shaft during water storage. Normal water containers can only be stacked a few feet high before collapsing. But during compression testing, the Q Drum could withstand 3.7 tons – equivalent to about 40 full stacked Q Drums. The Q Drum’s durability also means they’ll withstand about 8 years of everyday use.

The drum can serve to transport other things as well, like foodstuffs or clothes. And if some soap and water are added, the drum becomes a portable, manual clothes washing machine. Outside of the developing world, it can be useful in bringing water to those in need following natural disasters.

Sometimes it pays to reinvent the wheel.

Hendriske got the idea for the Q Drum while driving past villages near his home in South Africa. He saw people using wheelbarrows and old water drums to transport larger amounts of water and thought there must be a better way. The solution was so simple people wondered why no one had thought of it before. He made a prototype, offered it to the villagers, and, as he told Kopernik, where the drum is available for purchase, “They were crazy about this thing!”

But as simple as the Q Drum is, manufacturing it in a cost-effective manner is not. To make the cylindrical hole requires rotational moulding, a lengthy and expensive process. Another challenge are transport costs, which are often higher than the cost of the drums themselves. This is a major problem. As stated on the Q Drum website: “Those that need them ultimately can’t afford them, and those who can most likely don’t need them.”

Right now Q Drum makers are trying to align themselves with manufacturers inside the countries where they’re needed. By manufacturing them locally they hope to not only reduce costs but to also benefit those in-country operators.

Hendriske showcases the Q Drum in action in the following video. He also beckons to those with “resources” to “help get the Q Drum to the people who need it most.”

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singula...

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