'Self-reliance, resilience and survival during a crisis' Part III
Editorial Advisory Panel Member Christo Motz covers the military urban survival course he attended from September 18 – 24, 2011, in the area around Halmstad and deals with practical solutions and strategies to survive a worst-case scenario during a massive black-out.
Last week, on Friday, September 16, I hitchhiked from Stockholm down south along lake Vättern. Close to the nature-reserve Omberg, I decided to jump off and walked to the shore, where I decided to make a bivouac and stayed in my travel hammock during the night.
Beautiful yellowish-orange light from the sunset radiated across this great lake and the ongoing breaking waves caused a reassuring sound. And there were hardly any people around.
On Saturday-morning I took my backpack and hiked about 18 km to 'Ur Natur', a five star eco-lodge in Sjögetorp, situated at a lake, named Visjö. This company was started approximately five years ago by my friends Håkan Strotz and his wife Ulrika Krynitz. Here, they live and work together with their two daughters, two colleagues, their sheep and a dog.
Håkan is a former parachute ranger, bush-living- and survival expert, forester-hunter. Ulrika is a biologist and designer.
About 17 years ago they bought this little farm and about 80 acres of forestland and started an eco-living project based on sustainability. Nowadays 'Ur Natur' has become one of the world's well-known eco-projects, where managing people, business people, policymakers and captains of industry are welcome to experience nature's abundance in a natural environment, in which nine awesome, traditional wooden log-cabins (and 'tree-castles') and a wooden conference room are situated, all hand-made, built and designed by Håkan and Ulrika themselves.
An entire sustainable lifestyle is almost impossible, though very promising and necessary if we understand and experience the complexity of today’s urbanization all over the world.
In a way these people show us a way of integrating basic needs, eco-living and self-sufficiency (up to a certain level) and working towards a solution for our self-created ecological and socio-economic problems.
Growing your own food, living from the land, using solar-power, diminishing one's ecological footprint and re-establishing and re-connecting with our lost essence does contribute a lot to the quality of life and is way more fulfilling than waiting for 'doomsday' to happen.
Complex societal structures and their vulnerabilities
Nowadays an increasing number of people live in overpopulated cities throughout the western world and it seems this process has not come to an end.
In the developing countries and growing economies like China, India and Brazil even more people are moving towards urbanized and industrial areas, very often in a desperate search for jobs and a better life.
Similar developments are taking place throughout the western world, mostly elderly people tend to stay on the countryside, because they have their pensions, while more and more farmers leave their birthplaces for a well paid job in the city.
Basically, throughout civilization farmers have always been the cornerstone of society, while producing food for themselves and the surrounding population.
Since WW II modern agricultural technological development, rational economic systemic thinking combined with the use of powerful fertilizers, genetically engineered modifications and global trading have created an ever increasing available amount of food supplies, at least in the western influenced hemisphere.
Within half a century, a thousand of years of sustainable farming has turned into a worldwide agricultural-industry, which doesn't seem to take responsibility for animal rights and environmental issues.
Biodiversity is at risk while the global market is dominated by a few powerful food corporations who are able to manipulate the global food market and its prices, in an ongoing search for more profit and subjugation of traditional ways of farming and growing.
Famine and food riots have become a daily reality in developing countries, where people are entirely dependent on basic food like rice and other whole grains. Prices have increased dramatically during the recent years.
As a consequence, social instability, chaos and disorder are the result.
Sooner or later our global economic system and society are going to be confronted with 'Peak oil'.
This is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. This moment will confront us with the overall inter-dependency between our existing systems and the extreme vulnerability of the critical infrastructure that creates our 'modern' lifestyle.
This infrastructure can easily be disrupted by such a scenario, one does not need flooding, terrorist attacks, ice or snow storms and pandemics to understand the full range and consequences of a severe decline of available fossil fuels.
As a consequence it that from one day to another food markets will not be supplied (sufficiently), drinking water is no longer available and electricity systems will shut down.
How are we going to live without running machines, fertilizers, communication-systems, transport, heating and logistics?
Do we fully understand the consequences of such a scenario?
After the devastating tsunami and earthquake which struck Japan early 2011, the nuclear plants of Fukushima were severely damaged and radiation leaked into the ocean and contaminated a large area.
As a result the Japanese government had to distribute and downsize the available energy resources to a minimum. Mega-cities like Tokyo and Osaka were blanketed in darkness.
Could this also happen to us in Western Europe on an even larger scale?
What would you do, in case you and your family are stuck in a city, which is struck by a black-out?
This important question forms the basis of the military 'Överlevnad Urban miljö Kurs' I attended the recent week.
Urban Survival Training
On Sunday, September 18, I was welcomed at Tylabäck, a course centre, close to the city of Halmstad and about 500 metres from the sea. The course was led by Torbjörn Groth, a military SERE-survival instructor for the Swedish Försvarsutbildningsförbundet, together with Harry Sepp and Lennart Zeilon, survival instructors for the Swedish Civil Defence League.
Twenty-one participants took part: 13 Swedish soldiers from the national reserve, six survival-instructors from Estonia (military, police and coast-guard) and two Dutch survival instructors, myself being one of them.
The first two days took place at Tylabäck, we received vital information about preventive medicine, hygiene and the use of equipment, such as stoves, lights and heaters.
A number of different scenarios were presented and discussed in small groups. For example: What might be the effect of a black-out for a family living in a two floor apartment in a big city for at least a week during early November? This family consists of two grown-ups and two children in the age of two and five years old. How would this affect their lives with regards to their basic needs of food, water, warmth, sleep and emotional well-being?
In what way does this situation influence the everyday life of other people, the welfare system, the local community and the workplaces?
Does anybody realise what it means for farmers who take care for over 300 cows and who suddenly are not able to milk or feed them, nor muck them out adequately?
Human beings need at least 500-600 Kcal per day to survive; the average intake is 2000-2500 Kcal per day. On a daily basis an average person in a household needs at least minimum eight to ten litres of water for drinking, personal hygiene and cooking.
But how can you purify water, where do you store it and what are the common risks for your health if hygiene becomes difficult to maintain and manage? There is a variety of water purification tablets and water filters. Basic methods such as cooking and boiling water are preferable, afterwards you could add iodine or chlorine to water. The taste can be removed by adding a couple of drops of vitamin c.
On the afternoon of September 20, it was pouring with rain and we drove to Mästocka, a military training facility for urban warfare and urban survival training, in a forested area, about 40 km South-East of Halmstad.
This location consists of approximately a 300-metre-long street with a number of red, green and black painted wooden houses/objects alongside and one larger concrete two-storey building at the end, without proper glass windows and doors.
The aim of the course was focused on an 'escape and evasion' scenario, in which we, as a military unit, were first taken prisoner by a foreign enemy, but had been able to escape, owing to friendly fire.
In order to reach our own lines we made bivouac in an abandoned city environment, in which we had to survive a couple of days with all possible equipment and materials we could find.
Every day we received new instructions and we were able to use different heat-sources, lighting (kerosene, gas). Some of us took the entire wiring system and a battery from a car to fix electric lighting in our sleeping area. We had to improvise.
We had to build a shower facility, improvised basic toilet, a sauna, a food storage in the ground and created a good sleeping room and kitchen within the empty concrete building by using plastic sheeting to cover the open, missing windows and doors.
The following days it became clear that one needs a structured day-programme and disciplined approach to counter health problems such as diarrhoea, along with smoke intoxication and other hazards. Only by collaborating we were able to deal with difficulties and adapt to this situation.
It's not difficult to understand that a long-term and massive 'black-out' in a densely populated area, such as the Netherlands, might cause problems on an unimaginable scale.
When elevators don't function, medication can no longer can be stored in fridges, logistics of food, fuel and water have come to a standstill, then it suddenly makes sense that the elderly, disabled and the young children are at risk.
It's impossible for local and state authorities to support or save the lives of every affected citizen, they lack the capacity and you cannot prepare efficiently for those scenarios.
The way I look at it is that first we should instruct firefighters in urban survival skills and at the same time we should inform members of the public about what they can do themselves. Besides we should facilitate and support 'local civilian response teams' which are trained to help their fellow citizens during disaster.
We should work towards a resilient society, educate schoolchildren in (organic) growing, farming, basic maintenance of bicycles, motorcycles and cars, self-defence, rescue-swimming, first aid, elementary fire and basic (urban) survival skills.
That would be a good start.
After these experiences and once back in Holland, I will focus on the next step, which involves integrating the Swedish approach as a model for home and urban preparedness during crisis in Dutch society and in other EU-member states.