"The world's cleverest designers cater to the globe's richest 10 per cent, creating items like wine labels, couture, and Maseratis. We need a revolution to reverse this silly ratio." So says Dr. Paul Polak who runs International Development Enterprises, an organization helping poor farmers become entrepreneurs.
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is currently hosting an exhibit called "Design for the Other 90%" (running through September 23).
On display are inventions that are designed to help poor people with their very basic needs. A number of these inventions deal with water: procuring water, getting clean drinking water, and getting water in the dry season for drip irrigation.
Shown at left (photo: P.J. Hendrikse) is the Q-Drum which is a circular jerry can that holds 20 gallons of water. It rolls so smoothly that a child can easily tow it on a rope. The Q-Drum is designed to change the way water is fetched; currently this backbreaking job is usually done by women and girls who balance water cans on their heads. This looks like quite an improvement.
Another invention is the Lifestraw (photo: Vestergaard Frandsen). This drinking filter kills bacteria as water is sucked through it. Since a significant portion of the world's population does not have access to safe and clean drinking water, the Lifestraw is a boon for preventing waterborne diseases. I recommend viewing this video from India to see a lively demonstration of the Lifestraw in action.
More inventions are cited and displayed at the above Cooper-Hewitt link. Also, check out Donald McNeil's article "Design that solves problems for the world's poor" in the May 29, 2007 New York Times.