Annual issue 2018

By | Education | Published 2 years ago

Barrels of convenience: Women of Kohistan awaiting distribution of the H2O Wheels by a representative of the Indus Earth Trust.


Photographers often romanticise images of rural women in colourful clothing, balancing water containers on their head, walking through the desert haze. Their colourful attire and exotic, ethnic jewellery is usually the focus; not their bare feet; not the expression of weariness due to the weight they are carrying, or the loss of hair due to constant rubbing of the containers on their heads.

In this context, the H2O wheel — a container for water that can be conveniently carted by being rolled on the ground, like a wheel — is a godsend. An invention of, a philanthropic organisation founded by Pakistani students in Oxford, Cambridge and Kings College London, it is the answer to many women’s  woes.

Singer Ali Zafar was the first one to test out its advantages, when his organisation donated some of these containers to women in Tharparkar.

Due to the women-water nexus, females are completely removed from access to whatever educational facilities that may exist in their area. We know all about the lack of schools — some under-funded, while others mere ‘ghosts.’ We also have enough data about the dropout rate of post primary students, especially girls, because there is no all girls secondary school nearby. But how many of you know that even where they are schools, girls cannot go there simply because if they do, who will fetch the water?

In the portion of Kohistan that lies in district Thatta, near Jhimpir village, the water-and-women nexus means that women must walk for miles to the wells, watering holes and ponds, several times a day. They carry the laundry and containers there, carry back a heavy load of wet clothes, and balance containers of up to 12 litres on their heads. Girls as young as eight years, also carry containers.

When mothers are asked why they are not spared, their explanation may sound callous to us city slickers, but is logical for them: “At least she can bring back the water for her own use.”

Millions across the world have been inspired by Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. It not only gave a voice to those who had dreams they could not articulate, but also established the importance of dreams. Of course, the word ‘dream’ can take a step up and become actionable, if substituted with ‘vision.’

This step up can be particularly helpful in the case of Pakistan’s development dynamics, which have failed so many of its citizens. It is as if those further away from the main highways and motorways, are further down on the timescale of life.

Pakistan is close to rock-bottom in the Human Development Index, and Global Gender Gap report, and right ‘up there’ in the Corruption Perceptions Index. The patriarchal social structure and set-in-stone gender roles, only exacerbate the problem.

In such conditions, the women-and-water nexus can be a particularly useful tool.

For all the women who are entrusted with the fetching of water, old age and debilitating illnesses are the only relief from this onerous duty. But both come early, because of a lifetime spent carting that load. Spines are bent, and muscles are fatigued due to the weight and from walking against high velocity winds — something the mapped wind corridor of Pakistan is known for. The shoulders and neck develop permanent damage due to the strenuous exercise. Pregnancy, by the way, is no ‘excuse’ to shirk the ‘duties’ of fetching water.

The Indus Earth Trust, working in this locality to provide better access to water, is also trying to change the mindset of men. It is asking them to help lessen the burden on women by putting the containers on donkeys, donkey carts and motorcycles. Some agree, others just shrug their shoulders and walk away.

The women-and-water nexus is such a cultural norm that it does not even occur to the men to help the females. When one young man, who works in the police, was asked why he doesn’t help his old mother, his answer was simple: “She never asked me to!” When probed further as to why he needed to be asked when he could just help, he gave a blank look as if this was incomprehensible.

According to Bilal bin Saqib, the founder of, “The objective of giving these very simple-to-use wheeled containers is not just to lessen the physical burden, but to use them as a ‘tool for school.’” Saqib explains that water needs will be met in a way that will allow women more free time, which they can spend “honing their patchwork and embroidery skills — activities that enable them to earn for their families.”


How and why was formed? How did you think of making H2O wheels?

The context of the work originated from my home, in Pakistan. Travelling to over 25 countries granted me the epiphany to appreciate the basic necessities we are given in this world and be grateful for what First World countries have. This valuable experience has increased my passion and desire to do everything in my power to support the underprivileged. is a nonprofit organisation committed to improving the quality of life with the most basic, yet scarce necessity: water. Our main activities focus predominantly on facilitating water transportation and purification in rural Pakistan, whereby women are forced to travel long distances to fetch water for the sake of survival.

I intend to lead an impactful life by helping the underprivileged and serving as a catalyst to motivate others to think and reflect on how we can bridge gaps in the underdeveloped parts of the world. This objective will be achieved through modelling the use of technology to tackle social issues in order to serve as an example.



Material quality?

The H2O wheel is made out of food-compliant material, which makes it safe to carry water. The H2O wheel can carry up to 40 litres.

We now also have a mobile water filter, which purifies up to one million gallons of water.

How did you spread the message? Did you spot a problem in a particular area and then create the solution, or did you create the product first and then reach out to those who could benefit from it?

They say when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it. I just wanted to help the poor, and water was something that sprang to my mind. Having travelled extensively in Africa, I picked up the idea and thought we should do something similar in Pakistan.   

What is your feedback mechanism? Can you give a link to any success stories?

Feedback has been outstanding. The women and children have seen a considerable difference in the quality of their lives.

What is your philanthropy model?

We take from the rich and give to the poor, in terms of donations. Apart from this, we are also open for CSR activities and endorsements.

Indus Earth was the next organisation to provide the H20  wheel to women in Sindh Kohistan, when an anonymous donor stepped forward.

By making small community organisations in the villages of the area, parents are persuaded to send the new generation of girls to school. The H20 wheel, a simple tool, is a means of economic empowerment.

Women can get the entire day’s water supply in one go, without the physical burden.

Another attempt at social change is to ask young boys to share in the responsibility of fetching water. The novelty of the easy-to-wheel barrel is what is being banked upon as a starter, but in the long run, it is hoped that the new generation will take up this task without any gender discrimination.

For the present, the focus is to make a dent in the statistics of this part of Thatta district, which shows zero literacy for the girl child.

A freelance journalist, with an experience of print, electronic and web media. She writes, and trains media on climate change, gender and labour issues, as well as media ethics.