This is a guest post by Mike R
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win a number of prizes including an 84 serving storage bucket of Wise Food Storage, 500 rounds of 9mm ammo, a NukAlert a copy of my book The Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat and a copy of my CD It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – And I Feel Fine . For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]
As a health care professional for 30 years, and with 20 years of that being spent in the military, I brag that I am a defecation expert. You could say that I, “know my shite”. The greatest number of casualties in war is to sickness and disease. War has a nasty habit of paralyzing or removing the infrastructures of society, such as good sewage systems, regular removal of garbage, and clean drinking water.
While immunizations have been given the credit for saving the lives of millions of humans, immunizations should really only be given the credit for mopping up the last of the mess; the development of modern hygiene and sanitation techniques and systems had already reduced the death rates in many of those illnesses by 80% by the time immunizations showed up on the scene.Many survival scenarios will place a person or a family into an environment that is similar to living in war-time.
Water and sewage are likely to not be dependable and the garbage truck will not show up on Tuesdays. Power to homes may be unavailable,rendering the use of refrigerators obsolete and making it difficult to cook food or even,and especially, boil water. The more populated the area, the greater the risks. In my experience in the field during my military years, I learned that modern folks do not take the presence of germs seriously–until they are very sick.
There are many articles on this site which address treating drinking water, so I will assume that you have read those and prepared (you have, havenʼt you?) Letʼs look at two other issues that you will deal with, correctly or incorrectly to your health or illness.
Humans produce pounds of liquid and solid waste per day—and that is just from the body.The primary problem is defecation. But you are thinking, “Bears crap in the woods, why canʼt I?” No shooting, Sherlock! You sure can, but how often and how much will depend on how many people are involved and how large of an area is being occupied by your survival “group.” Human “shite” is partially the remains of bacteria that have been enjoying a nice meal and the fiber and connective tissues of foods that were not totally digested.
Many of these bacteria are helpful. Some are helpful but only when confined to a safe area–like your gut and not your other body orifices. You may have recently read that fecal bacteria is a common inhabitant of the surfaces of shopping cart handles, even more so than the toilet in the bathroom that is cleaned once per day. Put these guys in the wrong place and you can be a very sick person and convey that illness to those around you. The end result can be dysentery or a number of other bad illnesses.
There are any number of good methods for the digging of latrines. Perhaps the fastest and most readily available is the “cat hole”. Just like a cat, but using a trowel or other digging tool you should dig to the depth of the tool, about 8 inches for a trowel and 12 inches for a shovel. One quick squat over the hole and then cover it up.
You may wish to mark it with a stone or cover it with natural materials for aesthetics depending upon your group size. The larger the group, the more dispersed the holes need to be. The main advantage of the “cat hole” is that it holds only a small amount of material that can decompose quickly.
That is also its main disadvantage–it only holds a small amount of material. What if there are several people in your group and you will be using that back yard for a while? In that case, you will want to consider the trench latrine.The trench latrine is exactly that–a long trench.
It should be 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep.Try to keep the dirt you have dug out on the side of the trench so that waste can easily be covered up. Then leave the shovel in the dirt with a roll of toilet paper on a stick.Then follow the old SWSW method–Squat, Wipe, Shovel, and Wash. Ideally, you should keep some sort of a small cleansing station near by for your hands–water and soap.
If using porta-potties, or any contained waste system, your challenge will be disposal of the waste. Tied, plastic bags stacked in the alley wonʼt cut it. Like all waste, it needs to be buried and like with any real estate, itʼs all about location, location, location!Chemical toilets are designed to “decontaminate” the waste, but when it comes to shite,you donʼt want to mess around. Bury that shite. Waste burial and latrines should follow two important rules:
- 60 to 70 adult steps (200 ft) from an encampment or water source is ideal (if you use my backyard, you just go as far as you can!). Besides concerns for water and smell,there is the real concern of flies and other pests spreading contamination. It isnʼt pleasant to think that the fly that is dining on the other end of your corn cob just dined at the latrine. Bacteria travel by air or by touch, be it with dusty winds or the legs of a fly or the hand of a fiend.
- Alway place your waste site away from and below the level of any water source or drainage that leads to a water source. If you have a nice spring on your survival site,never above the spring. Like water, shite rolls down hill, so the spot needs to be away from and BELOW the level of any spring, never above the potential water source. If rains is going to flow, where will it carry things? Think before you dig.
Solid waste from meals should be separated. You will want all non-animal food products except egg-shells to go into your compost file that you will undoubtedly be using to fertilize and soften your heritage garden spot where you planted the heritage seeds that you bought (you have, havenʼt you?). More importantly, it wonʼt waste valuable space in your garbage pit.
Animal products should be treated like human waste. Can animal waste be burned? You bet. You can even burn shite. Why there are even solar, gas, and electric-powered shite-burning toilets, but my guess is you and I wonʼt have access to one and the open burning of shite needs to be done properly. Better to use a latrine.But what about urine?
You should use your latrine or a designated seepage area that follows the same rule. Generally, human urine is without germs, but in its fresh form is not a great fertilizer. If you have a small group with control over the collection. Buckets to collect the urine and contain it until it has “ripened” for a few days can provide you with a very rich source of nitrogen fertilizer for your garden. Pee can be good for peas, if allowed to “ripen”.
Some may ask about the use of human waste for fertilizer. It is used raw in many nations, but those people also enjoy hosting a couple of dozen worms in their guts. Feces can be turned safely into a compost, can be dried and burned as fuel, and can be used more directly on gardens if you donʼt mind having worms.
Food waste that is from animals does not a happy compost pile make. It will attract a whole different gang of bugs and bacteria and It should be burned or buried like human waste or your compost pile will come to smell like it.Empty cans and food containers can become quickly filled with bacteria and pose a problem for storage as well.
Crush containers that can not be burned or cleaned first,can be crushed and buried away from the living site. Burnable containers and waste can be dealt with that way and they may be an excellent source of tinder. Metal containers can also be put into the burn pile to burn away the food that contaminates them.
If you choose to burn your solid garbage, then be aware that not all that burns is good for you. Plastics, rubber, and styrofoam, among many things, produce noxious toxins.Other than that, follow two rules when it comes to garbage burn pits: (1) keep them downwind and (2) bigger is not better. When burning garbage a slow smoldering fire is far more effective and efficient.In the end, you want to minimize the amount of waste (piles of trash are piles of trash),and keep your group healthy.
We all know about how to prepare drinking water by now and if not, search for one of the many excellent articles on this site. Your concern for water should not be just about consumption but for cleaning. The washing of the hands is the most effective way to prevent the spread of most illnesses, but if you are short on water, you are likely to think about drinking before washing.
You wonʼt feel that way if you become dehydrated and unable to absorb water due to chronic diarrhea that you acquired from poor hand washing, yours or others. When considering your storage of drinking water, also thing about quantities and containers for water to be used for washing. The presence of soap is a major step towards the washing of hands, dishes, utensils, and the body as it breaks up the dirt and oil that allow bacteria to remain affixed to our hands and the surfaces of dishes, containers, and canteens.
It is far easier to remove bacteria than kill them.The larger your survival group or the greater the human density per square area, the greater you need for strict rules on hand washing. Most who prepare for disaster situations rarely store enough drinking water, much less water to clean with.
The wise survivalist will at least have containers ready to store non-potable water, which becomes good washing water. Wash before you touch your mouth, after you defecate, and before you eat. If you are in contact with many other survivors, wash more frequently.
Hand sanitizer is effective, generally, but may not be available. Good, effective soap can be made with lye extracted from ashes, and fat or oil. You can find some articles on soap making elsewhere on the site. If lacking enough soap, use the natural sanitizer for your dishes and utensils after rinsing and removing all material–energy from the sun or a fire. Leaving those dishes in the hot sun when not in use will help sanitize them. Just be sure to remove any dust they might acquire before using.
Hygiene and grooming
Survival situations are unplanned and rarely fun and exciting. Westerners soon discover that the human body smells very badly after a few days without a shower and soap. And guess what, you will thing that your body is the only one that doesnʼt stink! Just ask your neighbor–it does, and badly.
As importantly, grooming provides an important daily activity that assures the group that life goes on. Simple things like combing the hair,shaving, and bathing whenever able, brushing your teeth, and the washing or sun and fresh air exposure of clothing is very important to reminding us that we are indeed human and can stave off depression and stress.
Good military commanders know the importance of this and will insist that their soldiers are clean and groomed when at all possible. The value of a clean and/or dry pair of socks in cold or damp weather becomes clear in a matter of days. Want to make some real money in a survival situation–just stock plenty of clean underwear and socks.
Veterans among us will remember field showers that lasted only a few minutes but which took off weeks of grime and crud. The psychological effect of being clean is as important as important as the aspect related to physical health.
Mike Reith is a health professional in Fresno, CA and can be reached [email protected]