A sticky situation
Sanitation is one of the most underrated public services in developed countries. As with all public services, there is a very high likelihood that sanitation services will fail in an apocalyptic event. Yet this element of survival consistently fails to receive the attention it deserves, probably because we’re all taught not to talk about poop in public.
Water is a relatively “sexy” topic. While clean water is critical to staying alive, it should not be forgotten that water and sanitation go hand in hand. Where there is water, there will be wastewater that needs to be properly disposed of. Surviving the apocalypse isn’t going to be very useful if you die of cholera three weeks later.
A failure to plan for your sanitation needs will very likely lead to the spread of waterborne diseases and could contaminate your water source, leading to a greatly reduced chance of long-term survival. This situation is frequently observed in developing countries that lack proper sanitation services, and in urban slums in particular. According to the World Bank, diarrhea caused by a lack of proper sanitation kills one child every 20 seconds in the developing world. Shit is not a laughing matter.
How you address your sanitation needs will greatly differ in bug-in and bug-out situations. The latter is relatively simple to address, assuming you establish a base/small community in a relatively rural area. In this case, a simple outhouse will suffice. Be sure to dig a deep enough hole that is far enough away from any potential water source to avoid contamination. You will need to move the location of the outhouse every so often, though this will depend on the number of people using it.
Bugging in, particularly in urban areas, presents an entirely different challenge altogether. If the number of people living in the area has been greatly reduced, outhouses may be a viable option in the urban setting. However, it is likely that there will be large numbers of survivors and that is a recipe for disease outbreaks if a basic level of sanitation service cannot be established. In urban areas it is also critical to know where the wastewater discharge is located on local waterways. If treatment facilities breakdown be sure to avoid this area at all costs, as it will be highly contaminated.
Sanitation is not a pleasant topic, but it’s much easier to deal with ahead of time. Nothing is worse than getting hit with a very angry digestive system and not having a place to go.