In the twentieth century our average lifespan increased by 35 years. Improvements in sanitation were responsible for 30 of these years. Prior to the twentieth century, more people died of disease caused by poor sanitation in every war than as a result of wounds. Typhus, Cholera, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Trachoma, Typhoid, and various worms and parasites were common illnesses.
Today in third world countries, five thousand children die every day to from infectious diarrhea, caused by poor sanitation. Seventeen percent of the deaths of children under five are caused by diarrhea.
If you think I am trying to scare you, you are right. Poor sanitation can be a major killer during a large-scale disaster, whether natural or manmade. Having lived in Africa when I was much younger, I have seen what the lack of sanitation can do first hand.
Experts, who deal with third world countries with very poor basic sanitation, say that the biggest bang for the buck is to have good handling of human waste at the household level. Poor management of human waste not only spreads disease, but also is responsible for the spread of worms and parasites.
Knowing the correct way to handle human waste can keep you alive and healthy. A temporary toilet can be improvised from a five-gallon bucket and one of the toilet seats from your home. If you have plastic bags to line the bucket with, it is easier to dispose of the waste. Keep a can of wood ash, lime or other disinfectant by your improvised toilet to sprinkle over your waste. This helps to keep the smell down and the insects away. Cover the toilet when it is not in use. The waste can be disposed of by burying or burning. The problem with burning is that it takes a lot of fuel. Burying works well, but you have several things to consider.
How close is the nearest water? The U.S. Forest Service advises you to be at least 200 feet from a stream or well when you bury your waste. Consider the slope of the land and, if possible, bury the waste down slope from your water source. Remember, when it rains, you do not want the water to drain through your waste disposal area into your water source. When you bury waste, cover it with at least 18 to 24 inches of dirt.
If you are without normal sewage facilities for a long period, you may have to improvise them. Dig a slit trench 18 inches wide, 4 feet long, and at least 4 feet deep. Rig up a privacy partition around it. You can use almost anything from brush, scrap lumber or old sheets, etc. Since you will have to squat over the trench, you will need something to hang on to. Install a couple of posts within easy reach, you can even run a rope between them for additional support. Provide something to wipe with and wood ashes to cover the waste and you are in business.
You may want to consider building a more permanent outhouse. I will post some plans for that in the near future.
In talking to people about sanitation, I find that there seems to be a misconception by many that as long as you drink purified or good water, you can still wash in the stream or lake you got the water from and it won’t hurt you. You can pick up skin disorders and parasites from bad water. Whenever possible use good water for washing and all your sanitation needs.
Unless you have complete control over a water source, for example a deep well, you have no idea what others are doing to contaminate your water source. There is a stream across the street from my house; it will turn into an open sewer after a major disaster that destroys our infrastructure.
The problem of poor sanitation is something that we all should pay more attention to. Today we take it too much for granted.