Thursday, February 18, 2010

Water in a Survival or Crisis Situation

Water is one of the most vital aspects in a survival or crisis situation. The human body consists of around three quarters of water and a person can only survive a few days without water. If the temperature is really high a person can die of dehydration within a shorter period of time. Safe water is something that many take for granted, but over 1 billion people around the world don’t have access to safe water and over 2 billion lacks a safe sanitation system. In some cities around the world there is no water resource in close proximity so water must be imported through pipelines. If you live in this city you may want to take this subject extra seriously. The water systems in cities are often dependent on electrical pump in order to work, in case of a black out this system often ceases to work. Natural disasters such as earthquakes can also damage the water and sanitation system. Some cities lack nearby water sources and must get there water transport to them over long distances, during a crisis situations these cities would be extra vulnerable.

A minimum 5 liters per day for first week is required, 2-3 liters will be needed for drinking and the rest for cooking. This is a minimum amount of water that a person can survive on for a short term period but after the first week you will need around 20 liters per day. Of this water around 8 liters will be needed for drinking and cooking, 5 liters for dishwashing, 5 liters for personal hygiene and the rest for medical and other uses. The hygiene is important to prevent infections. Examples of problems if water is unavailable for a long term are lice, mite and bacterial skin infections. 20 liters is what you should calculate as an absolute minimum for a long term emergency, in many industrialized countries an average citizen can use somewhere between 200-300 liters of water per day for cooking, washing, showering, bathing and flushing toilets.

Water Containers
Plastic containers in different sizes are the most common containers to use for water storage. I suggest that you get containers in different sizes with a capacity from 5 liters to 20 liters. Soda bottles can be used if you clean them, but they have a small capacity if you intend to store water for a whole family.

Water Bladers for your back pack are an excellent solution when you’re hiking, camping or hunting. These bladders let you drink while on the move. These bladders come in different sizes, normally from 2-5 liters. Camelback and Nalgene makes high quality models. There are also water bottles and water containers made from soft materials that can be folded and takes up very little space in a bag.

When you’re camping, hunting or hiking in recommend that you choose high quality water bottles and a water bladder for your backpack as a combination. I personally like the high quality water bottles from Nalgene, Klean Kantten, Camelback and SIGG, but there are many different brands that make copies that are almost as good as the originals. The Plastic bottles are often lighter than the ones made from metal. The metal bottles don’t risk melting if you happen to leave it to close to the campfire, on the downside the metal bottles can cause freeze damages to your hands if you handle them in winter climate. Use tape to cover the metal if you’re using them in cold climate. Military canteens are also a good alternative as water bottles. This can often be bought quite cheap as military surplus. The Norwegian NATO Canteens have the same shape as a normal military canteen but are steel thermoses that are excellent to carry warm water in a cold climate.

Water Storage
How much water you should storage in your home depends on a number of factors. Where do you live, how much rainfall is there, do you have access to a lake, river, reservoir, swimming pool or other sources of water nearby? One of the best solutions is of course if you live on the country and have access to your own well. A hand pump for your well is an excellent addition if you depend on electrical pumps. I suggest that you store water for a minimum of 72 hours per person in the household. That is 15 liters per person. If you live in an area that’s doesn’t have nearby water sources I suggest that you store water for a week, that’s around 35 liters per person. If you live in a very warm climate you may have to calculate the double amount. If you add bleach or water purification tablets and store the water in a dark and cold place it will store for around 6 months. Mark the containers with dates so that you know when to rotate it. Put the dates in your calendar so that you don’t forget to rotate it.

Water Purification
During a crisis situations, natural disasters and human conflict the water purifications and waste disposal systems in the society often brakes down and water can become unsafe to drink. In order to reduce the risk of drinking water that’s contaminated by disease or poisons there are methods for water purifications. I suggest that you use both some kind of filter and that you also boil the water or add water purification tablets after you filtered it if you’re not sure that the water is safe.

Water Purification Filters
There are excellent water purifications filters that can be bought on the market. These filters reduce the amount of microorganisms in the water with over 99% in some cases. These water purification filters are often very expensive however, I recommend the Katadyn Pocket. I have personally used this filter to purify water that was very dirty. Katadyn also have other more stationary solutions for homes and more professional systems that can be used in emergency situations. There is also other companies that makes water purification filters like Mountain Safety Research (MSR) and Berkey Filters. Aquamira makes a very compact emergency filter in form of a straw called Frontier that is both cheap and lightweight for packs; however this is only a short term emergency solution.

Water Purification Tablets and Bleach
Water Purification Tablets and Bleach destroys harmful microorganisms in the water but does not remove poisons and other dangers like radioactive particles, for this a water purification filter is better. Boiling water for around ten minutes will also kill microorganisms in the water. Use around half a teaspoon of bleach/per liter or water purification if the water is very unclean. Use 2 drops of bleach per liter of clean water or water purification tablets to conserve water for long term storage. There are special tablets that can be bought that reduce the taste of chlorine if you use bleach or water purification tablets.

Dehydration and Treatment
If a person becomes dehydrated the effect will reduce their ability to cope with a crisis or survival situation. Both the physical and psychological ability will be reduced. Losing just three liters of water will reduce the performance of a normal man with around 50%. Dark urine is a common sign that indicates dehydration. Other signs are nausea, headache and no saliva. It’s easier for the body to absorb water if you add some salt and sugar; this is called Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS). Add 1/2 tee spoon of salt and 6 tea spoons of sugar to 1 liter of water. Dehydration is a very serious condition, but if treated with ORS a person’s will recover quite fast. Another sign of dehydration is that the skin becomes les elastic, if you pull someone’s skin on the stomach and it doesn’t retract as fast as normal this is also a sign of dehydration.

The Crisis Situation
If you get an early warning that a crisis situation may be happening you can take a number of steps to improve you water situation before the crisis happens. It’s not always such a warning is available, some crisis situations like earthquakes and other natural disasters can take place with little or no warning. If you have a bath tub I suggest that you fill it up and cover it with plastic. You may not be able to use this water for drinking, but you can use it for hygiene, flushing toilettes or purifying it later. A WaterBob is a large water bladder designed to be put in a bathtub and filled with water that can hold over a hundred gallons. It can also be good to have a number of clean soda bottles that you can fill with water.

It’s also important that you locate potential sources of water as close to your home as possible. Collecting water is a very heavy and time consuming work. To transport water in crisis situation is very heavy work and you may need to transport it a long distance. A backpack with an external frame can be used to carry large containers. Small chariots, a mountain bike that’s loaded so that’s it balanced, a shopping cart or a bicycle cart can be good ways to transport water. Examples of potential water sources are lakes, rivers, reservoirs and swimming pools. Rainwater that’s collected can also be a good addition in a crisis situation. If you intend to use such a system I suggest that you try it out before a crisis situation.In a survival situation coffee filters can be used to filter water before the water is sterilized if you don’t have access to professional water purification filter.

[ ] Water Purification Filter
[ ] Water Purification Tablets
[ ] Bleach
[ ] Coffee Filters
[ ] Large Water Containers (Capacity between 5 and 20 liters)
[ ] Water Bladder
[ ] High Quality Water Bottle

Also see
Food, Starvation and Famine - Crisis Prepardness and Survival


  1. that much salt in the water?

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  2. Thnaks for including the ORS/T info. It was new to me so it was the nugget of information I was able to walk away with

  3. I have seen the same recipee from public healthcare and consider the proportions correct. It also said that it was not proper for children and stored for 24h only.

  4. I have a tip: flat snow deeper in the snow banks is fresh and purified by the packed snow, old military tactic for survival in the artic.


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