It bothers me that when it comes to an extended disaster scenario people always talk about having enough food and bullets. Sure, you need to eat and to protect your stuff and, with the obvious exception of water, I couldn’t agree more. But there’s one nagging point I just can’t get off my mind and that’s personal hygiene and sanitation.
You see, I’m not a doctor, but I do understand that the human body is under constant attack by unseen invaders that would love nothing more than to take you down… an extended disaster scenario is the perfect opportunity for this to happen. Why?
Several reasons, in fact:
- A nutrition-deficient diet. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be eating nearly as well as you do now after a disaster. If you’re living off of your food stores then it is likely severely lacking in variety–think about the huge variety of foods you eat now–which typically means your diet post-disaster will be lacking in nutrition. As time goes on then this problem will escalate. Granted you can offset nutrition deficiency with multi-vitamins and prudent food storage pre-planning, however, you can’t expect miracles and with time will come disease.
- An inevitable reclamation of our territory by nature. As humans, we have literally taken over the areas we inhabit. With the invention of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and the like, we have the ability to keep much of nature in check most of the time. When people stop going to work and otherwise stop using these tools, nature will begin to reclaim her territory. Animals, rodents, insects, and especially bacteria and viruses WILL regain control of our once-dominated environment… with the inevitable conclusion that we will literally be doing battle on our doorsteps once again.
- You will be performing dirtier work. Survival means getting dirty. It means doing more than you have ever done before. It means doing things you have never done before. It means being constantly grungy, dirty, and downright unclean (at least compared to now). Coupled with a lack of sanitation, that constant grime you’re unaccustomed to will mean a significantly increased opportunity for bacteria and viruses to attack you.
- You will be more runned down. You will be more tired because you’re doing more work than you’re used to. You will be receiving less food than you’re used to. You will probably be nutritionally deficient. Take these points together and your body is now more susceptible to disease (think third-world countries).
- A lack of water. This is probably the biggest reason I can think of. We use it for everything including keeping ourselves clean and nearly everything we touch sanitary. Think about how many times you might wash your hands during the day, from cleaning yourself after using the restroom to preparing foods to simply washing your hands for little reason at all. We take water for granted and if the time comes when you need to conserve water for drinking then washing yourself properly becomes a secondary priority very quickly.
Think about what I just pointed out. You will be dirty a lot of the time. You will be tired often. You will be nutritionally deficient. You will have a lack of water for proper washing. You will be battling nature much more so than you do now. The conclusion is obvious: disease will be a huge problem in any lengthy disaster scenario.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat the problem above:
- Storing plenty of water–and, more importantly, having a replenish-able water supply–is critical to proper hygiene and sanitation. Obviously, store as much water as you possibly can. Have means to purify it. Figure out now where you can replenish your water assuming you must. Don’t assume you’ll just find water when you’re desperate.
- Stock plenty of hand sanitizers, wet wipes, and general-purpose cleansers. A simple camp shower would work wonders for day-to-day cleanliness.
- Keep plenty of nature-controlling supplies such as ant bait, roach bait, rodent bait, mouse/rat traps, general-purpose pesticides, flea spray, fly traps, and so on to combat mother nature.
- Be sure you keep yourself well-groomed (especially your fingernails) and follow good hygiene practices such as keeping your hands away from your face, especially your mouth and eyes to avoid disease transmission.
- Have a plan for dealing with your garbage and human waste, in particular. A 5-gallon porta-potty with plenty of liners (like 13-gallon bags), toilet paper, wet wipes, hand soap, and a shovel to later bury it would be the best most can do. Additionally, consider composting organic materials to reduce overall waste.
- Stock plenty of personal protection supplies such as disposable N-95 or better face masks, plenty of disposable gloves, and even eye protection. In the event of a flu pandemic, these materials will be in short supply and be invaluable in your time of need.
- Keep a solar/camp shower on hand. They are very useful in emergency situations as well as for camping.
- Ensure you have the following personal hygiene items on hand: toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, fluoride rinse, bars of bath soap (at least a few extra), shampoo, comb or brush, deodorant, nail clippers, nail file, feminine pads (a few dozen), lotion, razor and blades.
Understand that most of the above supplies would be very difficult to obtain after a disaster. Work now to get what you’re lacking. Of most importance is knowledge. A simple understanding of disease transmission would be the best “thing” you can own. I can’t help but be reminded of medieval times when disease ran rampant, a time where people would simply toss out their human waste into the streets below and thereby into their water supply. Go figure.
I’ll leave you with a comment I read somewhere (and I’m paraphrasing): “Of the 40 years or so of increased longevity in life, we owe about 35 years to proper hygiene and sanitation and only 5 years to our doctors and medicines. That means you owe so much more of your life to your plumber than you do your doctor.”