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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What To Do When the Sanitation Hits The Fan

Toilets account for 31% of indoor water use in...Image via Wikipedia
It is a documented fact that more people die after a disaster due to poor sanitation than from the disaster itself.  This is due to individuals not knowing where or how to properly expel waste.  Fly infestations also pose a problem, and if waste is left out in the open, then it will only lead to the susceptibility of epidemics such as cholera, typhoid or diphtheria. The survivors of the earthquake that occurred in Haiti last year are dealing with this very problem.

Hundreds Have Died From the Haitian Cholera Epidemic

The Haitian earthquake survivors are not only reconstructing their city and their homes, but are dealing with a cholera epidemic due to unsanitary conditions after the earthquake occurred.  As of November 2010, 4,764 Haitians have contracted cholera, and 337 have died as a result (Source).  In fact, news sources have reported this epidemic outbreak to be the worst they have seen in 20 years.  This epidemic broke out due to people being uneducated on how to properly dispose of waste.  In all honesty, most everyone is uneducated on this subject, because our town’s and city’s waste management teams do the job for us.  But if an emergency arises and the water and sewage systems are corrupted, then your waste becomes your responsibility.
In an article regarding this subject, emergency preparedness author, Kellene Bishop of Preparedness Pro has this to say, “If you don’t take emergency sanitation seriously, then the consequences can be extremely dire – even up a 50 mile radius.  Preventing waste from contaminating the soil is just as important as preventing the spread of any other disease as it contaminates crops, water, and air.  Additionally, as water will be scarce in a time of emergency, ensuring that it does not get contaminated with improper sanitation habits is critical.
Diseases such as cholera , are contracted through contaminated water and food, and often as a result of poor hygiene and sanitation practices.  It causes acute diarrhea and vomiting.  If left untreated, it can quickly lead to serious dehydration and death.  Women and children are usually the most effected, and become dehydrated more quickly.   In fact, UNICEF  reports that “poor hygiene, and unsafe drinking water claim the lives of 1.5 million children under the age of five every year.”

Add a Sanitation Kit to Disaster Supplies

Having a sanitation kit that is ready in times of disaster is essential to keeping your family and neighbors healthy.  These kits can fit comfortably into a bucket, are affordable, and will not take up much space.  Additionally, being educated on how to properly dispose of waste is a key factor in keeping everyone healthy during a disaster.
Some suggested sanitation supplies to add to any short or long term emergency kits are:
  • Disposable bucket or luggable loo
  • Toilet paper
  • Rubber gloves
  • Garbage bags with twist ties ( for liners of toilets or luggable loo)
  • Bathroom cleaner
  • Cat Litter or absorbent material such as saw dust or dirt
  • Baby wipe
  • Baking soda can be used to help eliminate odors
  • Vinegar
  • Shovel

Disposal of Waste

Properly disposing of waste products keeps water sources clean and cuts down on illness and disease.  If city water is still available, flush conservatively.  Grey water such as used dish water, bath water or water for cooking can be used to flush the toilet.  If water lines are damaged, or if damage is suspected, do not flush the toilet.

In a short term emergency situation

If water services are interrupted, an easy way to utilize the toilet and keep it clean is to:
  • Clean and empty the water of the toilet bowl out.
  • Line the bowl with a heavy-duty plastic bag.
  • Once the bag has waste inside, add a small amount of deodorant such as cat litter, as well as disinfectant and securely tie the bag for disposal.
  • A large plastic trash can (lined with a heavy duty bag) can be used to store the bags of waste.
  • Once trash services begin, the city will come and collect these.
If a portable camp toilet is used, the above mentioned can also be used.  However, if the trash crews are not coming in a given amount of time, the bag of waste will need to be buried (see the proper way to bury waste below).
Officials say to avoid burying your waste, but sometimes it is necessary.  However, if waste is not properly taken care of, pollution of water sources will lead to illness and disease.  It also attracts flies and insects which will spread the disease further.  Understand that burying feces takes up to a year to decompose.  Therefore, finding the right spot to bury your feces is crucial.  There are biodegradable bags that a person can put their waste into.  These can usually be found in the camping department of outdoor stores, or on the Internet.  The bags assist the waste in decomposing faster and assists in preventing the waste from hitting major water sources.  If a person does not have one of these handy bags available, the feces should be buried in “catholes” far away from water sources, campsites and communal spot where there are a lot of humans.
According to Leave No Trace, there are some considerations when choosing a site to bury waste.
  • Select a cathole site far from water sources, 200 feet (approximately 70 adult paces) is the recommended range.
  • Select an inconspicuous site untraveled by people.  Examples of cathole sites include thick undergrowth, near downed timber, or on gentle hillsides.
  • If camping with a group or if camping in the same place for more than one night, disperse the catholes over a wide area; don’t go to the same place twice.
  • Try to find a site with deep organic soil.  This organic material contains organisms which will help decompose the feces. (organic soil is usually dark and rich in color.)  Refer to the jars used to demonstrate decomposition.  The desert does not have as much organic soil as a forested area.
  • If possible, locate our cathole where it will receive maximum sunlight.  The heat from the sun will aid the decomposition.
  • Choose an elevated site where water would not normally runoff during rain storms.  The idea here is to keep the feces out of water.  Overtime, the decomposing feces will percolate into the soil before reaching water sources.

Disposal of Feminine Napkins

It is important to properly dispose of sanitary napkins, as they contain bodily fluid that could pose a health hazard to others. Methods of disposal may differ according to where you are are and what you have available.  However, tampons and feminine napkins do not decompose quickly.  Therefore, the best way to dispose of used feminine napkins tampons is to burn them.  The fire must be very hot in order to thoroughly destroy the used items.

In a long term emergency situation

Sanitation in a long term disaster will require the same type of sanitation supplies in a short term disaster, however, a more permanent stucture needs to be in place for long term use.  Below is a video of an example of a long  term latrine.  In fact, this is a compostable latrine.  One that can be made for any household and utilized in such a way that can be beneficial to the environment.

In Summation

Sanitation is a dirty subject that no one really wants to talk about.  But it is an often overlooked aspect of emergency preparedness.  When a disaster creates a situation where the water sources are compromised, the lack of sanitation in the given disaster area will be a disaster in itself.  A 50 mile radius of individuals could be affected by illness and disease.  Prepare appropriately for this aspect of disasters in order to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
Additional Reading:
WHO Handout on Emergency Sanitation
National Terror Alert Information on Sanitiation in an Emergency
Emergency Sanitation Manual – e-book
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Get Ready Now

By Joseph Parish
For several years now I have stressed how important it is for us to store up food for upcoming emergencies. Although it might at first appear that we are unable to prepare for each and every emergency situation we must at least try to be prepared. 

The ideal amount of food to be stored up for a family would be a sufficient amount to hold them over for one complete year. This may initially sound like a lot of food however if accomplished on a regular basis can be completed efficiently and without busting ones budget. 

You can initially start your preparedness by accumulating some basic food necessities. These foods would be those which are the simplest and quickest to prepare but would still sustain life. These foods could encompass various grains, beans and legumes, honey for sweetening foods, salt, cooking oil and packages of powdered milk. After one has gathered enough of these basics to hold the family over for a year it would then be appropriate to expand the food selection into those products which family members may consider “nice to haves”. 

A man’s wisdom can often be judged by how prepared they are for any eventual emergency as opposed to his material wealth or influential. In this case we could say that he is wise in storing up a years worth of food. I continually tell people that they can not rely upon the government to help them in a disaster situation and must tae the initiative to help themselves. I have been pushing this issue now for the past ten years and urge all my readers to take the reins and let their family and neighbors know to get these food supplies ready.

We can turn on our television set every evening or read the morning newspaper and tell at a glance that our economy is quickly failing. We are now on the verge of famine where we will experience difficulties buying food in our local grocery stores. Disasters are striking in just about every region of our nation and could affect your area as well.

Most people will flat out state that they can not afford to store up a years supply of food. They claim their budget simply will not allow such things to happen. In reality this is nothing more then a weak excuse to do nothing about the situation. These very people do not need to drop their budgets in order to be prepared as they build up their food supplies they merely need a plan. Each week many of us save a small portion of our paychecks in order to create a buffer zone in the event of a personal emergency. You should do the same with your emergency food storage as well. Regular purchases of small quantities of food will quickly add up if done on a routine basis. Add to these purchases your personally canned or dehydrated foods from your garden and you are well on your way to seeing that years supply of food.

Notice above I said to add to your supplies by the addition of canned foods or dehydrated storage products. Take the time to learn these skills as you will find it useful not only now but in the future as well. One thing I am reminded of from some of my friends is that they claim a man can not learn to do these kitchen essentials. Well ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you. I have learned and can do dehydrating, canning and freezing of foods with the best of them. Survival has no male or female skills; we need to learn it all.

Copyright @2010 Joseph Parish