Thursday, April 28, 2011

Survival Resources 10: Safe, Clean Water

When I was writing about 'Needs', I did a post on Water (5/10/09) where I mentioned 'the rule of three': "you can only live 3 minutes without air, you can live 3 days without water, and you can live 3 weeks without food." Recently I repeated a similar rule in my post on Wilderness Survival (Survival Resources 8, 3/11/11), "A person can go a few minutes without air, a few days without water, and a few weeks without food..." What these rules don't tell you is that if you do drink water and it's contaminated, you could be very sick for several days, or even die.

Unless you can figure out a way of capturing rainwater in a container that is absolutely clean, then the water you are drinking may well contain stuff that's really not good for you. The issue isn't so much about finding clean water; the issue is how to clean the water you have so it is safe and drinkable.

There are two ways water can be contaminated, and so there are two different ways to clean it. The first way that water can be contaminated is by water borne pathogens. There are many organisms that live in water that can cause diarrhea or worse.

A major method for treating infected water is called SODIS or solar water disinfection. This method uses clear plastic (PET or polyethylene terephthalate) bottles which are filled to three-quarters with the water in question, shaken (to aerate), and then completely filled. Water that is turbid (not clear) should be filtered until clear before doing this. The bottle should be placed at an angle on a reflective metal surface (a corrugated metal roof is ideal) for six hours on a sunny or partly cloudy day, or for two whole days if the day is mostly to completely cloudy. This method is used on a world wide basis for safe drinking water.

The second source of contaminants for water is chemical--heavy metals, organic compounds, and even the chlorine that municipalities add as a method of water purification. The question of the health hazards of chlorine is controversial. The American Chemistry Council insists that the amount added to drinking water is safe, but other sources (especially from companies that sell water filters) disagree. Wikipedia notes: "Disinfection by chlorination can be problematic, in some circumstances. Chlorine can react with naturally occurring organic compounds found in the water supply to produce compounds known as disinfection byproducts (DBPs). The most common DBPs are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). Due to the potential carcinogenicity of these compounds, drinking water regulations across the developed world require regular monitoring of the concentration of these compounds in the distribution systems of municipal water systems." The woman who taught me water and soil testing when I took RUST (see my post on RUST, 7/13/10) was adamant about the dangers of carcinogenic substances in chlorinated water.

SODIS is no help with chemical contaminations--here some type of filter is needed. The most common is some sort of 'charcoal filter'--the commonly sold Britta filters are an example--and there are many more expensive, sophisticated types out there.

The combination of using SODIS to disinfect the water and a filter to get rid of chemicals should result in safe, drinkable water. There are other methods that work as well (such as solar stills). For more information on making sure water is safe, see the chapter on Water in When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein. (I reviewed When Technology Fails on 12/13/10 at the beginning of this series.)

(I want to thank my friends at DIO Skillshare for giving me much of this information.)

Quote of the Day: "Until roughly ten years ago, no one ever considered it unsafe to drink directly from mountain streams. You could stretch out on the bank of a high mountain meadow creek and just push your face into the water to drink. ... But no longer can we ... drink even a drop before purifying it without running the risk of getting sick." - Kathleen Meyer

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Survival Resources 9: Primitive Skills

(For regular readers: Again, I'm sorry about the long delays between posts. I have been busy with other things--and then I got sick. I have a lot to write on--just less time to write it. I'm hoping that may change in the future but we'll see. Meanwhile the posts will be coming out s-l-o-w-l-y.)

A lot of what I have been writing about in the most recent, back-to-nature posts can be referred to as 'primitive skills'; that is, simple ways of working with nature that hunter-gatherer people and others knew, but 'modern' folks have little knowledge of.

Wikipedia claims: "Primitive skills is a term used by naturists and 'back-to-the-landers' that refers to prehistoric handicrafts and pre-industrial technology. Primitive skills are those skills that relate to living off the land, often using handcrafted tools made from naturally gathered materials. Examples of primitive skills include: gathering and foraging native plants and animals for food, skinning and preparing game, basketry and pot making, constructing shelters, fire making, and useful plant identification."

The question is where can we learn these skills that our ancestors knew so well? Unsurprisingly, a number of schools have sprung up willing to teach them. Maine Primitive Skills School (in Augusta, Maine), is a key one near me. There are also lots of internet resources for this, including Primitive Ways, Primitive Outdoor Skills (from NatureSkills.Com), and The Society of Primitive Technology. There is even a website just devoted to Links to "every Primitive Skills site on the Net".

And, of course, there are lots of useful books as well. I went looking for my copy of Tom Brown's Field Guide to Living with the Earth which I was going to review but seems to have gotten lost while I was sick, but there are a bunch of books like this. Tom Brown has several others, as does Thomas Elpel. Wilderness Survival by Mark Elbroch and Mike Pewtherer, which I reviewed in my last post has bunch of short essays on varius primitive skill.

The point is relearning these skills. And, of course, the point is to learn them and then practice, practice, practice. Slowly we may reintroduce these skills to the world.

Quote of the Day: "According to anthropologist Stanley Diamond, the average man of the hunter-gatherer-pastoral African Nama people is 'an expert hunter, a keen observer of nature, a craftsman who can make a kit bag of tools and weapons, a herder who knows the habits and needs of cattle, a direct participant in a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies, and his is likely to be well-versed in the legends, tales, and proverbs of his people.' Diamond goes on to say, 'The average primitive... is more accomplished, in the literal sense of that term, than are most civilized individuals.'" - Chellis Glendinning