Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You need water.

If you are reading this blog, you have access to a computer and electricity, and probably to a water utility system.  Which makes you a fortunate person, since many people around the world struggle to find clean water each day.

But what if that water service was interrupted? Hurricane season has begun, and throughout the planet there is always the possibility of earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, monsoons, floods, wild fires, and civil unrest.  Many of us don't stop to think what we would do if we needed water.

You can go days and even weeks on minimal food, but only two or three days without water.  Forget washing clothes or taking showers or baths.  Let's consider the basic needs of drinking water, water to cook with, water to wash your hands after you use the bathroom, water to dump in the toilet to make it flush, and water to clean dishes you've eaten on.

We also need to differentiate between treated and untreated water.  Except for the toilet, the other four items in the list call for treated water, especially for drinking.  A person needs 2 to 3 quarts (or 1.9 to 2.8 liters) of water a day to function, and more in hot weather.  In an emergency that lasts several days, how would you get this water?

First you need a water source, whether it's bathtubs and buckets you filled before the crisis, or bottled water, or a pond, lake, stream, or cistern, a swimming pool, a rain barrel, or a well.  If you have an electric pump for your well, you may be able to figure out how to hook it to a gas-powered generator, which would be great until you ran out of gas.  For people that live near a body of fresh water, they should consider how they'd get the water to their house.  If the streets are blocked with downed power lines and fallen trees, you may have to carry the water.  Water is heavy--it weighs 2 pounds per quart, or 1 kilogram per liter.

If you can get the water to your house, how will you treat it? People often say, "Boil water," but how practical is this? Do you own a large container suitable for boiling water, and do you have a sufficient supply of wood or charcoal or propane gas to burn? Maybe not.  So you may consider using chemical treatments like the purification tablets soldiers and hikers use, or iodine or bleach.  You'll want to be careful in treating your water so you don't make yourself sick.

An alternative may be a filtration/purification system.  There are all sorts of filtration systems available, from tiny ones built into straws, to hand-pumped models that can treat a fair quantity of water. 

My point is not to frighten people, but hopefully to get folks to consider what they may need to do in an emergency.  If you survive the initial onslaught of a disaster, very soon after you will begin to think about your need for water, so planning ahead is a worthwhile effort.

(Photo courtesy R. Pelisson -
(If you want to learn more, there are many public information sites like this CDC one and survival sites on the Internet that cover getting and cleaning water.)


  1. Do what I did - spend the money on a Berkey filter, get some extra filters to store, and your water needs are set for 20 years. No electricity, great tasting water, it will filter ANYTHING - missionaries in Africa use it with raw, untreated water and don't get sick. Serious, people spend thousands of dollars on guns, food, camo clothing, etc. for "survival" and then don't even think about the most essential thing humans need to survive - water.

  2. Eric has a key point here -- water is a unique resource, and all your other equipment and preparation are useless if you've dropped from dehydration.

    Thanks for commenting, Eric!