Much of the morbidity and mortality associated with disasters comes not from the impact of the disaster itself, but from avoidable infections associated with damaged infrastructure and poor hygiene in the aftermath of a disaster.
I will talk about first aid in a later post, but here the old adage “prevention is better than cure” is much more important.
Sanitation boils down to two things: staying clean and waste disposal.
The most important thing to keep clean are you hands, most pathogens are spread by hands coming into contact with your face. In the past this meant washing with soap and water, which may be scarce or contaminated in a disaster.
Now with the advent of hand sanitiser, soap becomes less of a necessity. Some studies have even shown that it is more effective than hand washing with soap. Hand sanitiser should be the number 1 sanitation item in your Go Bag.
Make sure that you use a product that contains at least 60% alcohol for maximum effectiveness. However if your hands are covered in dirt or grime that will compromise the effectiveness of the hand sanitiser, so you will need to find a water source and use soap to clean them. It is a good idea to use hand sanitiser afterwards. To wash your hands liquid soap is a good addition to your Go Bag.
In between cleaning your hands make sure you avoid touching your face and mouth or any open wounds. Try and keep your clothes, particularly socks and underwear as clean and dry as possible.
If you need them make sure you keep a decent supply of sanitary pads in your Go Bag – these also make pretty good wound dressings.
You can’t be sure that you will be able to find a functioning toilet, the sewerage or water supply may have failed or buildings may be unsafe to enter. You may have to improvise a toilet.
The most portable are plastic bags that you can do your business in and then dispose of away from your shelter. There are a number of purpose designed products on the market such as the PeePoo bag, but any plastic bag will do in an emergency situation. Make sure you have a decent supply of these and toilet paper in your Go Bag.
Other options include lining an existing toilet with a larger plastic bag or using a bucket in a similar fashion. Keeping some bleach on hand can help disinfect and control odours.
If you end up having to shelter for a lengthier time in place without an operational sewerage system it may make better sense to dig a latrine or pit for defecation, make sure you line these with plastic though so contamination doesn’t leach into water supplies.