If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. - Loren Eiseley

In extended emergencies it is critical to be able to locate, treat and store water. Not only is drinkable water essential to maintaining health, it's also important for cleaning wounds, personal hygiene, sanitation and cooking.

Water is life. You will die if you don't drink water within two or three days. Even reducing your intake can impact your health. The need is greater in hot climates, where the body loses water more rapidly through perspiration. Physical activity, altitude, stress, and illness or injury also increase the loss of water and its need for replacement. But even sitting quietly in a shelter in Arctic cold, you must drink more than half a gallon each day for your body to function efficiently.

The human body uses water not only to maintain consciousness and brain functioning, but also to enable the free flow of blood, the purification of organs and as a general means of preventing dehydration.

The importance of hydration for health can not be stressed enough. In the summer heat, it's possible to lose about one gallon of water per day to our bodies natural functions. If that water loss is not replaced, the result is dehydration. Dehydration can be life-threatening within a few days. Active adults require a minimum of three fourths of a gallon of water per day, more in extreme conditions.

Effects of Dehydration

Losing up to two percent of body fluids causes noticeable thirst

Losing up to five percent of body fluids causes weakness, nausea, and irritability. Pulse increases, and skin may become flushed. Judgment may be seriously impaired even if the body loses only two percent of its fluids.

Losing up to ten percent causes headaches, dizziness, and tingling in limbs. Sufferers may lose the ability to walk and speak clearly. Skin may turn blue, and vision may begin to blur.

Loss of 15 percent severely impairs vision and hearing, swells the tongue, and makes urination painful. Sufferers may be unable to swallow, or may exhibit signs of delirium.

Loss of more than 15 percent usually causes death.

Signs of Dehydration

  • Dark, sunken eyes
  • Dark, smelly urine
  • Fatigue
  • Shriveled skin

Water is the optimal drink for someone who is already dehydrated. Salts and minerals in sports drinks can interfere with the body's absorption of water.

Caffine and alcohol do not contribute to hydration. Use these drinks in moderation, and not as a substitution for water.

It's best to take small drinks at regular intervals, such as every hour, to prevent dehydration.

Don't wait to become thirsty before you start drinking or looking for water. It's difficult to drink more than a quart of water at one time without experiencing discomfort; therefore, once serious dehydration begins, it may take hours to return your body to a healthy state.

If you lack water, conserve your energy. Don't smoke or drink alcohol. In a hot climate, exert yourself only at night. Also try breathing through your nose and eating only a minimum. Without water, the human body rapidly deteriorates. Blood becomes thicker, making the heart work harder to pump it. Impaired circulation reduces the ability to shed excess heat in hot climates or retain heat in cold ones. As dehydration increases, the body pulls water from cells to keep blood flowing, which damages cell membranes and increases cellular salt concentrations.

Because water is essential in emergency and survival situations, any planning should address the following three phases: