How Would a Post-Apocalyptic Society Function Without Electricity and Running Water?

There were many people in America who didn't have electricity and running water well into the 1940s.

For a person to survive without electricity and running water is actually quite easy. There were still many people in America who didn’t have electricity and running water well into the 1940s. Even in Boston there were people on the outskirts who still used outhouses into the 1930s. My mother told of recurring spring project where all the neighborhood men would get together and help each other dig a new “soil pit” and move the outhouse from the old pit to the new one, cover over the old one, then dig up the one from the previous year so the cured “soil” could now be used as fertilizer.

This brings up an important point. In a modern society where the electricity and water failed there would be no way to flush toilets and eventually the sewer pipes would fill up with waste. Modern sewers require a certain flow generated by waste water to move the waste to the treatment plants. A rain storm can help, but these don’t happen frequently enough to clear the sewers. In any event, the plants would be non-operational and the stench of sewage and backed up sewage would fill the streets. We saw this in Iraq after the water and sewage treatment plants were blown up.

The real issue isn’t about a few people doing without water or electricity — you can go to Plimoth Plantation or Old Sturbridge Village or Mystic, Ct and see volunteers living in old fashioned towns just as they did 100, 200, 400 years ago. The real issue, in a post apolcalyptic society, is millions of people living without electricity or running water. Now we have a disaster in the making. UNHOLY TRINITY: How Ca... Trevor, Daniel Best Price: $22.01 Buy New $22.45 (as of 04:07 UTC - Details)

What happens when you have too many people in an enclosed area without electricity and no running water is that people drink from lakes, ponds and puddles nearby and defecate and urinate wherever they can, thoroughly polluting any open water worse than it already is, resulting in dysentery and other diseases that would sicken and weaken so many people that death would be rampant. In a society without electricity or running water it would be hard to maintain running gasoline vehicle efficiently since gasoline is mostly moved in volume from tanks by electric pumps. It would be possible to keep some vehicles rolling but much harder to do so and gasoline would get scarcer and once again you would have more hardship since most food is shipped to you from very far away. Eventually some level of privation and hunger would occur. As with dysentery, the people on the margins would be the victims — the aged, infirm, handicapped, autistic, etc, would die in swaths.

Any building with more than a few stories in height would have to be abandoned because it would be too difficult to get up to the higher floors and even when you did, there would be no water or lighting. Buildings would be very dark, especially in corridors and stairwells and thus unsafe from attack or accident. Eventually, with steam powered elevators and roof water collection systems some higher floors might be livable again but this would be some time later since there are very few engineers with the skill to build large scale, safe steam engines and all the factories would be dark, with no working machinery and stifling. It’s likely that to keep society functioning the train networks would have to be fully restored, including museum steam trains put back into service. It would be like living in the 1920s with many trains and fewer cars and trucks.

The ability to capture and pump water without electricity has been around since the time of the Romans, and later refined by people like Leonardo da Vinci who invented a screw-powered pump to move water up some great distances. We would have to resort to hand dug wells and hand pumps to move water. Again, these methods work for small populations but the larger the population the more difficult it becomes. Rome, a city of a million people, was serviced by 14 aqueducts bringing water into the city and when the city was sacked, the first thing the attackers did was knock down the aqueducts. Without water, the population was unable to stay in the city and abandoned it, allowing it to be easily invaded.

Wells would need to be dug by hand. The Romans dug the deepest human-dug well in Syria. It was 950 feet deep before it struck water. The thing that typically determines the maximum depth of a well is the weight of the rope required to pull up a bucket of water. If the well is too deep, the rope pulls itself apart before it can even bring a single bucket of water to the top. In the case of the well that was 950 feet deep the Romans put stages at various levels and required slaves to be at each stage to bring the water up a section at a time. It was an enormous effort to get even a single bucket of water to the surface.

Without electricity medicine would go back to the 1700s. It would be impossible to manufacture most modern drugs, even drugs like penicillin, at least in practical lots. There would be no refrigeration to preserve drugs or blood. Surgery would be crude because there would be no electronic sensing devices, no CAT scans or EKGs or other monitors. Anaesthesia would revert back to simple ether. Operating theaters would have to be lit by the sun or burning magnesium. There would be a resurgence of gas lamps, oil lamps, and kerosene lamps as long as flammable oils could be found and the use of these weak tools for light would result in people going to bed earlier and waking up with the sun. There would also be many more house fires with little way to extinguish them since there would be no way to move water except by hand pump or bucket brigade, resulting in buildings burning to the ground or entire neighborhoods and city blocks burning to the ground.

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