Human survivability with supply chain disruptions and its effect on populations
I wanted to start a new topic, and I'd like it to be a serious discussion based on critical thinking, not opinion. I'm interested in supply chain disruptions and the long term effects of a decrease in population as a result of that disruption.
Disclosure: I am a prepper. I've been writing daily numerous posts in Last Minute Tips for Parents When the SHTF. That said, I'm interested to hear from preppers and non-preppers and have zero axe to grind. I'm actually hoping that I have flawed thinking and am not looking at some aspect in enough detail. You're doing me a service to challenge my assertions. Think of it like challenging a dissertation.
Having looked at this issue for many decades and being an educated person, I've looked at many key areas and also historical events. Of course any scenario can depict such a high level of chaos that severe population reduction would occur, and so I wanted to pick what I believe to be a plausible scenario.
Scenario: an economic collapse of the USA due to loss of confidence in the dollar results in severe supply chain issues, extreme unemployment, a sharp reduction in government spending, and a recall of our military stateside to assist in restoring order. While many factories can retool to create supplies, that will take time. We have many natural resources, but they'd have to be extracted in operations that are either not under operation or not currently built. The collapse has just begun. What will be the population impact over the course of one year?
Assume that the most effort from the government will be to prioritize the highest populations, with the Northeast being the largest urban areas and less effected by drought than the Great Plains. The Northeast has a short growing season and is not suited for large scale agriculture. The Great Plains however supply our wheat, grains, and much livestock. Arid regions in the West will very hard hit as their soils may not support agriculture (crops and livestock) to any large degree. Today much of existing water is piped from one part of the country to another based upon a lack of rainfall in that region and too much demand on their aquifers from their population versus local populations with less demand.
Each of those areas will require the deployment of large amounts of soldiers and technicians, and they will need supplies (water, food, medicines, other) as well creating a new supply chain issue just for the additional personnel.
There is a current drought of historic proportions across much to the USA. Water is needed for agriculture, livestock, human water consumption, cleaning, as well as for industrial manufacturing processes of many different kinds. A human being can go three days without water as long as they are not doing a great deal of activity and based upon the temperature and humidity.
The status of water is getting grim with lower amounts of seasonal rainfall due to Wintertime, plus the historic drought, reductions in aquifers (in some cases severe like the Ogallala), and stream water reductions(including lakes and rivers from rainfall and snowmelt).
Impact: If we had supply chain issues for water purification, or the means of using utilities to power up the operation, then the water supply could be initially compromised and may result in no operation. This is the most likely scenario for severe conflict as water is so vital to life.
While boiling at the individual homes will remove pathogens, this isn't an option for businesses. Nor do business have the technical or human resource capability to gather water. We could expect to see a vast increase in improper sanitation as a result of hurried preparation, inconsistency of technique, and noncompliance.
Boiling doesn't remove chemicals in the water that are filtered. We'll expose people to these and boiling only concentrates them. As the water get progressively worse, bacterial counts may be excessive, and longer and longer boiling may be needed.
While some people have common bleach in their homes, many will not, or will have scented versions. Bleach would be a high demand item which will create a shortage. Pool shock is better and long lasting, but in much short supply due to typically very low demand. The latter will run out fast. Priority will likely be given to gear up the creation of both products.
Boiling means using an alternative heating source, and wood may not be available. Seasoned wood takes time to dry. While some areas have forests, they are sparse in many urban areas, nonexistent in much of the Great Plains. There is a death of them in some other regions, and transporting wood is expensive.
[Coal operations will be a priority to power utilities to run boiler operations. Coal is largely transported on river barges, and many are at historic lows which result in lower payloads on those barges that can navigate. Some rivers may become impossible to navigate, which would result in higher demand for railroad transport or trucking, both of which have their own supply needs.]
As the water utilities fail, rainfall can be collected, but only seasonally. Low humidity times will decrease yields due to evaporation. Most people have no equipment to collect it. Some will improperly collect it due to lack of technical ability. Some will accidentally contaminate it.
Wells can be dug, however most will probably dig shallow point wells which can be contaminated by garbage and fecal matter in the absence of garbage collection and disruption of the sewers. Deeper wells are safer, but regardless equipment is necessary for both and instruction to make them, plus maintenance, and sanitary practices. Biosand filtration will result in a 97% reduction in pathogens from garbage and fecal matter, but still that's a high level of new pathogens (and cumulatively being added in the civilian population), and only if wells are constructed. These will take time, and based upon the weather, so we can't expect this as a short term solution.
Some water collection from reservoirs (lakes and streams) will result in very high chemical content, poisons from pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and very high pathogen levels. Accessibility is a major issue since this requires altering existing easements to allow people access. We can expect major conflict at these locations based on fear, theft, and trespassing. We can expect severe health issues from this practice.
As people die from disruptions and violence, burials will occur in local communities and we can expect some pollution from this into groundwater sources. Agricultural efforts in those same communities will add to initially more chemical runoff, and fecal matter.
Question: How many people do you think will die from dehydration or pathogen effects in one week's time? Using totals which include the previous result, how many will die in a month's time? In a year?
Many food spoil in the absence of refrigeration (frozen meats being the primary concern for loss of proteins, but also fruits and vegetables; milk products are refrigerated and hence impossible to source; other meats, produce, etc are refrigerated.).
Most grains are dried and long lasting. Canned food won't spoil. Some other food products are dehydrated, but are uncommon.
The average American home has 3-7 days of food in it, not including frozen, but with a utility loss, that will be lost in a few days and probably wasted.
Non-obese people can live three weeks without food, but only if sedentary. That's highly unlikely in a collapse. Obese people can live up to three months without food if sedentary. Estimates of the obese population in America by the classical definition (over 30) has been estimated as high as 75% in some states.
We have some stockpiled food, but most likely this will be enough for military operations and critical infrastructure personnel.
There are not many rural folks (16%) and many no longer raise crops or livestock. We can gear up, but that takes time and is weather-based. We'll have to train a lot of people. Many foods are imported.
High activity for work to source firewood and water and gathered food will require a commensurate increase in caloric intake.
We can expect a large number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies as we saw in the beginning of the 20th Century and a vast increase in medical care for them. Priority should be given to vitamin production but many are made in foreign countries. This will take time to retool factories, hire workers, gather supplies,etc.
Few wild plants and their fruits and nuts can be gathered from the meadows and trees without damage to the areas in which they are harvested. Produce may be taken when under or over mature, and will impact local ecology by subtracting from insect, animal food supply, and then reduce humus levels in the soil. These plants are seasonally harvested. It's now Winter, and we can expect to not harvest until late June for most of the plants, and often the Autumn to produce the highest amounts. Many would be dead by that time.
Agriculture is contingent upon water, fertile soil, tools to break sod (for the land is not tilled), training, seeds, etc. Soils can be slowly raised in fertility, but these require even more specialized techniques and soil amenities like fertilizers, pest controls, pH modifiers, sand to create spacing between clay soils, etc.
Since food will take seasons for planting and harvesting, most of that will be too late for the majority of most Americans even with working under starvation conditions. Some produce will be harvested in June, with progressively higher amounts in July and August and September, but only in fertile areas. Since this is so multifactorial in scope, it's probably unrealistic for this to save people until those harvest times.
Wild game has been severely affected in many drought areas as have fish populations. Those are only hunted or fished in their season. These require special equipment, chemicals, ammunition, training. If taken out of season we can expect extinction. If taken in their season, we can also expect extinction.
Trapping produces the most meat or fish, with less supplies and caloric energy, but it's beyond the capability of most people. While we have many firearms and some fishing poles, many are not skilled enough to rely upon subsistence hunting, trapping, and fishing in any reliable way.
Additionally we can expect high levels of injury, accidental wounds, and deaths from these activities.
Question: How many people do you think will die from starvation effects in one month's time? Using totals which include the previous result, how many will die in a in a year?
Next up medicines.