There is one thing in life that is a 100% certainty. You will DIE if you do not consume enough water in a survival situation. In this 3 part series, we will be covering what you need to know to survive in a crisis situation.
How long can you make it? 3-4 days seems to be the consensus, though the maximum time an individual can go without water seems to be a week, an estimate that is based on observations of people at the end of their lives, when food and water intake has been stopped, Randall K. Packer, a professor of biology at George Washington University told Maggie Fox of NBC News in 2013.
So what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where water is not plentiful? Here are a few basics you should know:
The size and gender of a person will determine exactly how much you will need to consume in a day, and the environment will also play a part. A man weighing 250 lbs will need more water than a woman weighing 112 lbs. Walking in the sands of Nevada? You will need more water than say, the forests of Michigan.
So how much fluid does the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate need? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that adequate daily fluid intake is:
- About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
- About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages, and food. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks.
Water intake doesn’t stop at drinking. Personal Hygiene is important to maintain during a crisis, as it can help prevent infection. Poor hygiene can lead to diarrheal diseases that can slow the absorption of nutrients, hindering children’s development. WHO/UNICEF estimate 2,200 children die of these diseases each day.
That being said, it is just as dangerous to try to maintain your hygiene with unsafe water.
To maintain proper washing, you should plan to have safe, clean water stored in water barrels, elevated off of the ground, stored away from sunlight and easily accessible near your home in case of emergency. In a situation where this is not possible, you should plan to reduce and conserve the water you do have access to so that you can maintain minimal cleaning during a survival situation.
Here are steps on how you can keep good personal hygiene in an emergency:
- Wash your hands: Before and after cooking, after using the restroom, before and after attending to any medical needs. Hand Sanitizer is your best friend in this situation.
- Wash your hair: parasites, fleas, and bacteria love to take up residence in human hair. Keeping your hair washed, brushed and trimmed can help prevent dangerous parasites and bacteria from making you sick.
- Wash your clothes: Having clean, dry clothes not only helps keep you insulated and warm when you need them to. It also helps prevent dangerous parasites and bacteria from taking host on your clothes. These parasites and bacteria cause skin infection and disease, both are things you do NOT want to experience in a survival situation.
- Brush your teeth: Ever had a severe toothache or infection? Ever had a severe toothache or infection while stranded in an emergency? Neither one is pleasant. Do your part to help stave off bacteria by brushing at least once per day. If water is not available, you can use salt on your fingertip (after you sanitize) or a clean strip of cloth to rub your teeth with.
- Wash and dry your feet: You aren’t going anywhere if your feet get injured or an infection develops. Wash your feet once per day and keep them dry. Change socks multiple times throughout the day in situations where moisture finds its way in.
- Keep your distance from personal waste: If you have to use nature’s restroom, make sure it is a good distance from your camp and cover it with dirt immediately after finishing.
Having a go-bag, or a survival kit is essential. If there is anything the recent pandemic has taught us, it’s that being prepared ahead of time is no longer an option (Try to find toilet paper… anywhere). In part 3 of this series, we will give you a full list of items you should keep in your emergency kit to be prepared to make it through a situation where you may not have the water readily available that you need to survive.
Locating Water in the wild
With the world being 70% water, you would think finding an acceptable drinking source would be easy. It’s not.
While there are dangers with drinking rainwater, it all comes down to what did it touch, and what is it being stored in. Some people use rainwater for watering plants, cleaning, bathing, or drinking.
Rain can wash different types of contaminants into the water you collect (for example, bird poop on your roof could end up in your water barrel or tank). Rainwater can carry bacteria, parasites, viruses, and chemicals that could make you sick, and it has been linked to disease outbreaks.
Dust, smoke, and soot from the air can be dissolved in rainwater before it lands on your roof. Roofing materials, gutters, piping, and storage materials can introduce harmful chemicals like asbestos, lead, and copper to the water, though building standards minimize some of this. Dirt and germs can be washed into collected rainwater from the roof, especially when rain follows several days of dry weather.
- Using a CLEAN container to capture rainwater during a storm. The water collected has fallen straight from the sky into your container – this is as pure as it gets, as long as your air pollution isn’t off the charts. (after COVID-19, a lot of our air seems to be cleaning itself up!)
- A rain barrel can be used to collect rainwater (or cistern or other rain capture system) connected to a downspout of your roof. While you will collect a TON more water, think about all the contaminates on your roof, like animal droppings, decaying vegetation, dust, insects, bacteria, and viruses. Also, if your roof contains shingles made with asphalt, asbestos, chemically treated wood shingles or painted metal, toxins could leach into the water. While this water would be fine for bathing or washing clothes as it stands in the barrel, it would need to be treated before consuming it. Boiling, chlorination or distillation would need to be done before anyone drinks a single drop.
Lakes, Streams & Ponds:
Any water that has been standing (not moving, just sitting there waiting for you to get sick when you try to drink it) is not safe for consumption. Often even if it has been moving, like a stream or creek, you could get sick from drinking it. Protozoans, bacteria, viruses, and molds all live in standing water. This will not only make you sick if you drink it, but it could also kill you. ALL stagnant or open water must be purified by some means before drinking or first-aid use. This means following the guidelines laid out below before drinking a single drop.
Here are some steps on how to purify water from a natural source of potable water is not available:
- Start with a clean container that has been disinfected. Wash your hands with soap and water before collecting water so you don’t contaminate it.
- Collect water from higher elevations or near the water’s source.
- Avoid taking water from where you see animals grazing or near established campsites.
- Collect water from areas of moving water in rivers and streams or the top few inches of a lake. Dip your bottle just under the surface and fill it from there. Stagnant (standing or non-moving) water is a breeding ground for insects, bacteria, and viruses and should be avoided.
- Now purify your water for drinking.
There are two ways to treat water for drinking:
- Filtration and Disinfection
How to purify natural, non-potable water
- Boiling is the best way to treat non-potable water.
- If you’re at an elevation below 6,500 feet, put the water in a container over a heat source, such as a campfire or propane stove, and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
- If you’re at an elevation over 6,500 feet, bring the water to a rolling boil for 3 minutes.
- Most water filters are made of a screen with many tiny holes in it. These filters can remove protozoa and bacteria, but viruses cannot be filtered out because they’re even smaller than protozoa and bacteria.
- Filters also remove bigger contaminants like leaves, silt, dirt, and sand. If the water is cloudy or has floating material in it, you should filter it even if you plan to boil or disinfect it.
- Filtration systems with an absolute pore size less than or equal to 1-micron filter (NSF Standards 53 or 58 rated “cyst reduction/removal) have high effectiveness in removing cryptosporidium and giardia.
- Be sure to use and care for your filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Filters don’t work as well if they aren’t taken care of over time.
- Filtration must be followed by disinfection to purify water for drinking.
- Disinfection happens when a chemical kills bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful organisms in your water.
- Chemical tablets or liquid drops are the most common ways to disinfect non-potable water. National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) approved products are recommended. – Iodine or chlorine dioxide is the most frequently used disinfection agent.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for disinfecting the water. Treatment time to disinfect the water for drinking varies by product. If the water is cloudy or has floating debris, it will be more effective to pre-filter the water before disinfecting.
- WARNING: Do not use pool-cleaning tablets to disinfect drinking water! Pool-cleaning tablets are not intended to be consumed.
- WARNING: Consult with your physician before using any drinking water disinfection products. Some tablets or drops, especially iodine, may not be safe for pregnant women, people with thyroid issues or iodine hypersensitivities, or for long periods.