Every living organism needs water to survive, from the simple single cell organism to the most complex. In humans, water makes up almost 60% of the body. It plays a role in so many vital functions in the body. Besides being the main component of blood, which delivers nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body, it plays a role in dissolving vitamins and nutrients from food, flushing out waste, helping to regulate body temperature (link here to extreme heat article) and metabolism. Humans cannot live more than a few days without water.
- 1 What Is The Danger Of Impure Water To Life?
- 2 How Can Water Be Made Safe For Drinking?
- 3 How Much Water Is Really Needed?
- 4 Where Can You Find Water During A Disaster?
- 5 Conclusion
What Is The Danger Of Impure Water To Life?
In many parts of the world, illnesses due to contaminated water are common. Water can contain bacteria and viruses harmful to people and can cause diseases when consumed, among which are diarrhea, fever, vomiting, stomach pain, and possibly death.
Even in the United States, there are occasional outbreaks of disease due to contaminated water resulting in thousands of illnesses ever year. There are approximately 6 deaths in the United States each year related to the consumption of contaminated water. This danger is far greater in less developed countries.
How Can Water Be Made Safe For Drinking?
A simple rule of thumb is to always assume that there’s a chance of contamination in a water source. Even water from the tap, which is regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), can be contaminated with pathogens like the ones discussed above or pollutants put into the environment by human activity. It is advisable to always run water through a filtration and purification process before drinking it.
How Can Water Be Filtered?
Filtration is a process for removing visible contaminants in the water, for example soil and leaves. Purification is a process to remove invisible contaminants like the pathogens mentioned earlier, for example bacteria and viruses. Filtered water may still be unsafe to drink. It must also be purified.
There are many products available for filtering water. Some are small portable filters you can take with you and some are large full house filtration systems that are expensive and require maintenance.
You can also create your own water filter that is quite effective in situations where you have limited resources. For example, water can be filtered using the simple method of running it through a porous material that will allow the water to pass through but trap those larger visible objects. This can be a shirt or a handkerchief. A more elaborate mechanism may be to fill a bucket with layers of cloth, charcoal, gravel and sand, where the cloth layers surround the others. The bucket should have a hole in the bottom to allow water to pass through. By the time the water has passed through all these layers and drained out of the hole in the bottom into a container, it has been more thoroughly filtered.
How Can Water Be Purified?
To make the filtered water safe for drinking, it must then be purified. Boiling water is the best way. The temperature of the boiling water is so high, it kills any dangerous microorganisms.
Another method for purification, if boiling water is not convenient or possible, is to use certain chemicals. Of course, this can be harmful over the long run and if you add too much, the chemicals can make the water toxic. If no alternative exists, though, this can be a very effective approach. Bleach, iodine and wather purification tablets sold online and in many stores can be used to purify water.
If bleach is used, it should be fresh and unscented. One eighth teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water should be added to a container and thoroughly mixed. Test the water by smelling it after it a half hour of resting. If it still has a chlorine scent, it’s not ready for drinking. You can repeat the process by adding more chlorine and testing.
You can also use iodine to purify water. It is often available in tablet, crystal or liquid form, and there should be instructions on the bottle for how to use it. Because of the importance of iodine for production of thyroid hormones, using iodine to purify water may be especially dangerous for people with thyroid conditions. Also it’s best for children and pregnant women to avoid it. A rule of thumb when using the liquid form of iodine is to use about 2 drops per quart for clear water and 10 drops per quart for cloudy water. It should be left standing for at least a half hour to give time for the iodine to work. You should expect the flavor and color of the water change.
Water Purification Tablets
There also several brands of water purification tablets. These are usually sold in bottles with instructions for use and storage.
Distillation is a process for purifying water. Find a simple homemade method for ditilling water here. When water is heated, it will evaporate, separating from any other minerals and contaminants that were in the water. The steam can then be directed through a pipe or tube where it eventually condenses again to pure water.
If you are in a situation where only salt water is available, it’s possible to construct a simple system to extract pure water safe for drinking. If a metal pot is available, fill it with water and put it over a fire bringing the salt water to a boil. Cover the pot with a cotton cloth which will absorb the steam from the boiling water. As the cloth gets saturated, you can wring it out into a separate container and repeat the process.
How Much Water Is Really Needed?
In an emergency situation, where water supply is limited, there are a few points that should be made about how much water an individual needs to survive. In the industrialized world, where there is an abundance of water, it is taken for granted. It is estimated that 100 gallons of water are used per individual per day! This water is used for bathing, dish washing, laundry, drinking, use of the toilet (each flush uses 1.5 to 3 gallons of water), cooking, gardening, etc…
In preparing for an emergency and determining how much water ought to be stored, a recommended amount is one gallon of water per person per day (half a gallon for drinking and the other half for cooking and personal hygiene). Based on this, you can determine how much water is needed for your family to make it through any number of days during a disaster.
Note that half a gallon of water per day for consumption is a bare minimum. More may be needed depending on the circumstances. For example, exposure to heat or over-exertion, will cause water loss due to sweating. More water will be needed to prevent dehydration.
You will also want to reduce water loss as much as possible. Reduce physical activity as much as possible and limit such activities to the coolest times of the day. Of course, seek shelter to stay out of the sun. Wear light clothing and stay covered. Also, lighter colors reflect sunlight from the body helping to keep the body cool. Find other recommendations here for dealing with extreme heat (link to extreme heat) to prevent overheating and water loss.
Where Can You Find Water During A Disaster?
In the wilderness, water can often be found in streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, etc… These are fresh water sources, but there is always the danger of contamination. You can follow the methods described above for filtration and purification. Note that these methods can only kill living pathogens. If the water contains poisons like pesticides or fertilizers or other toxins, there is still a danger. Therefore, you definitely want to look for the cleanest water source. Running water from a stream or river should be sought over still water. If a water source has a foul smell or bubbles or discoloration, avoid it!
In your home, a much overlooked source of water is your water heater! Most water heaters store over 30 gallons of water at any given time. This can be a valuable source of water to get you through an emergency. You would first want to turn off the water supply coming into the heater, in case the water source for your home becomes contaminated; then turn off the power at the circuit breaker, if it’s an electric heater or turn the thermostat to pilot for a gas water heater. It’s important to ensure that power is off and stays off, as the water heater can become damaged if powered without having water inside. See the following video for further instructions on draining the water.
In this article, we discussed the importance of clean drinking water and the dangers of contaminated water than can occur during a disaster, like a flood. A few methods were also provided for filtering and purifying water when faced with a water shortage in the outdoors. Please provide feedback and other ideas for survival in the face of a shortage of clean drinking water!