Water has become one of the world's most sought after commodities. Worldwide, populations are struggling to survive with limited potable water resources. This impacts not only personal hydration, but sanitation, and agriculture. I had an opportunity to interview the inventor of the Divvy Water System, Gary Cruikshank, to find out the inspiration behind the hydration.
What was the inspiration behind the Divvy Water System?
To be honest it was based on a request from a customer who was a fan of the product we sell for individual use into the backpacking market. He pointed out that there was a need at the humanitarian level and asked if we could make something suitable for larger groups. That conversation generated the first version of the DIVVY system. When we started thinking about the challenge of providing water for a displaced population in a low resource environment we wanted to build a system that could be run and maintained by community members and would eliminate the need for specialized technicians required by many of the current systems in the market. When people see our system they immediately think, “I could run that.” Furthermore, we wanted to build a system that could be repaired without technical expertise. We don’t want people to be out of luck when their drinking water system breaks down in the field. With DIVVY, the design is so simple that identifying any problem and coming up with a solution is very straightforward.
Your system requires no electricity or fuel? What can you tell us about the decision to make it that way?
Power and fuel are never guaranteed and are often not available in disaster or emergency situations and we knew DIVVY would be employed in low resource areas. We spent a significant amount of time coming up with a no power solution and we are often asked if we can hook it up to an electric or gas powered pump but we always say - why would we? The pumps we have are very efficient and there are always volunteers willing to pump. The pumping requires very little effort and is something the community can do for themselves.
We can see the entire system packs into three suitcases. Does that make it portable?
The system is very portable, everything packs down flat and will fit into most cars on the road. In high risk situations it can be airdropped. We designed it for easy transport and to pack down flat for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not uncommon for emergency equipment to sit in storage waiting for deployment and we understand that space is often an issue. Additionally, easy transport. The carrying cases have actually been built to accommodate a crash pad and strap system that pairs with a cargo parachute in the event that an aerial drop is the only method for delivery.
This looks as though it would be easy to set up. How many steps are required?
We have a great product design team who created the system to be easy and intuitive to set up and assemble without any tools. I actually used my teen age daughter as an early test subject. My daughter is a clever girl but she is not mechanically inclined. It took her about 20 minutes to set it up her first time with no coaching from me. Her comment to me was that everyone should put one together because it’s fun. It’s empowering to be able to put together a piece of equipment that you know can make such a difference.
Disaster relief is the system’s primary purpose. You shared how the system was implemented in Haiti after the earthquake, how has that worked out?
The tough thing about a disaster situation is that it’s hard to get feedback from the field. We typically work with larger organizations and rarely get to talk directly to the folks in the field as was the case in Haiti. The Divvy systems that went to Haiti were provided by the Mormon Church relief network and the best we can get out of them for feedback is “they are still using them” and that’s been going on for three years now.
You mentioned some heartbreaking examples of the consequence of no potable water in developing countries. In your research how important has the system been in producing better outcomes?
We donated a system to the Missionary Air Group who runs a hospital in a remote part of Honduras. The hospital itself has never had clean water and we were told that this is the first time the villagers have ever had access to clean drinking water. One of the things I love about our system is that it is so adaptable and in this case they reconfigured the components of the Divvy and hooked one of the pumps to the outside of the hospital so the locals can access water from the system without going into the hospital. They just sent me an e-mail today and said they had a documentary film maker down there focused on the water system. They have only had the Divvy set up for about 3 months and it’s getting daily use. An interesting and unexpected collateral benefit is that the system has sparked considerable discussion about the importance of clean water and how it affects their community. Working with groups like MAG (the Missionary Air Group) will allow us to get reliable feedback and monitor the long term statistical health benefits the Divvy system can secure. The Rus Rus hospital can only be accessed by air and services two villages. Historically, high infant mortality in the area has been associated with water borne illness and while we have anecdotal evidence today, we expect to have strong data to support the role of clean water in reducing infant mortality.
You’re clearly a creative guy Gary; tell us if you could invent one product right now to aid in humanitarian efforts what would it be?
That’s an interesting question; I think the biggest humanitarian crisis facing us is literacy. If I could I would invent something to help foster wide spread literacy. Water is important and without access to clean water you don’t live long so I think our water system is relevant and important but a significant portion of the water related problems even in emergency situations could be avoided through better understanding of good hygiene and sanitation practices.
Is there anything you wish you had invented? If so, what?
The Flying Squirrel suit, you know the one they use for base jumping where you can fly until you deploy your parachute. That just looks like too much fun.
Looking ahead into 2013 and beyond, are there plans to expand the product line?
We do have some cool things in development. The military has asked us to come up with a smaller platoon sized version of the Divvy System. We have also been working on a personal use filter in our consumer line that is focused on the emerging contaminants in tap water. A growing problem in tap water in the US and around the world is the trace contaminants getting into the ground water that are not removed by the public water systems. There are more and more contaminants in our tap water such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, industrial effluents, and personal care products that are washed down drains. We have a new filter line that does a great job removing the contaminants and are just finalizing the fit and finish to bring it to the consumer market.
Finally, your system is very competitively priced in the industry, why is that?
We realized early on that we needed to keep the price point as low as possible to be viable in the humanitarian market. Let’s face it there’s just not a lot of money in humanitarian work. We also do a lot of the manufacturing ourselves here in the US to help control costs and we tried where we could to use readily available off the shelf components not only to keep the costs down but to make it easy to find parts for repair in the field.
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