Urban populations continue to grow in size and commonality. Civil conflict and civil war have proven to be a human universal across cultures and eras. If history is any guide, and if current events can be used as the canary in the coal mine, it is only a matter of time before a hot conflict or civil war breaks out in our urban environments (such as it has in Ukraine, Syria, and other locations) in the West.
By looking at how others have learned to survive in cities during these dangerous and violent conflicts, we can better prepare for these circumstances. Cities are not necessarily what one thinks of when they think of war, but civilians and soldiers have found themselves in urban struggles throughout our history.
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A citizen of Rome under siege, starving in 537AD, is going to have a lot more in common with a starving citizen of Sarajevo in 1992 than you may first think. As Haslow would basically put it, our basic needs as humans have always been water/food, shelter, and security. This has not, and will not, change.
Today we are going to look at the #1 most important aspect of survival: sourcing food and water. Something made more difficult by the urban environment.
- The Difficulty of Obtaining a Supply of Food and Water in a Civil Conflict
- Obtaining Food in an Urban Environment
- Obtaining Water in an Urban Environment
The Difficulty of Obtaining a Supply of Food and Water in a Civil Conflict
The first major challenge to surviving urban warfare is keeping a supply of food and water going as the infrastructure is destroyed and imports become scarce. People were not made to live in a city-like structure without advanced trade networks—the area simply cannot sustain the population.
If you are forced to remain in the area during a conflict, you have a difficult road ahead, one that requires study, practice, and determination to overcome.
During WWII, roughly 20 million people died from malnutrition and related diseases, while those killed in combat are estimated at around 19.5 million.
While the Geneva Convention prohibits deliberate starvation of a city, it still happens, and deliberate use of starvation is rarely necessary for it to occur. Water also quickly becomes scarce in a city one the infrastructure fails.
In the ongoing conflict in Syria, sieges on large urban cities have become commonplace and a whole profiteering network of traders and smugglers flock from city to city to take advantage of the struggling populations.
The Middle East Institute talks about how “Traders within and outside besieged areas coordinate with businessmen to maintain monopolies of supplies, resulting in significant price hikes of basic goods for besieged civilians.” There is also the reference to this correlation between conflict and starvation in the 2015 Global Food Policy Report.
Obtaining Food in an Urban Environment
Some cities have outlying farms or food production facilities that may still be in operation that you can barter with. This was the case for many of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto of WWII—they would trade and smuggle in food produced by local farms and by other sectors of the city. In other cases, you will need to learn to be self-sufficient or grow your own.
In Venezuela, as the economy collapsed, looters began attacking trucks carrying food as well as collection centers and supermarkets. There was even a video that showed a bunch of men beating a cow to death for food. “They’re hunting. The people are hungry!” Chaos quickly ensues when food runs out.
We have tons of articles that can help in obtaining and storing food in an urban environment. Growing and trapping your own food is something you should try and pursue. Otherwise, having a good or service you can barter with will be your only other long term option.
Trapping may seem strangely niche, but being able to grab rats and other birds may save your life one day. A good place to start for trapping methods is the survival manual put out by the Army. Small traps for birds, rats, raccoons, squirrels, etc. could help you maintain proper protein levels.
You need to have a stockpile of food and a method for bartering or growing/trapping more if you plan to survive in an urban area during a civil conflict. The less you need to travel and spend time in public places looking and trading for food, the better.
Obtaining Water in an Urban Environment
Water is also going to be a primary concern. If the water supply to the city is cut-off for some reason, chaos and a mass exodus (if possible) will soon occur. This happened somewhat recently in Damascus. You can avoid much of the danger this poses by having a system for procuring and filtering potable water.
In an urban environment, you are mostly limited to collecting rainwater. Though it is possible to tap urban sources for water. Drains filters and other water run-off areas are places to strategically place barrels that you can go back and draw from later on. These need not simply sit where you are living.
There are many commercial filters you can buy. The versions the Marines are using are variations of products you can order online. These range from straws to standard pitchers. It is also possible to create your own. The Army survival manual describes various methods of water procurement for various climates—as well as filtration methods.
Everything you do in an urban environment will be a balancing act. Gardening and placing water barrels by your shelter may give away your position while having to leave your home every day to collect water can make you unnecessarily exposed. You must make efforts to hide traps and water collection spots as much as possible and to avoid them letting others know that you may have supplies to spare.
We have only scratched the surface of what is possible in terms of water and food procurement in a city that has succumbed to violence and chaos. Hopefully, however, we did touch on the majority of factors that will come into play. Trapping, growing, hiding, bartering, etc. as this civil war preparation series continues, we will touch on other necessary needs like shelter and security.
Here is part two: Civil War Preparedness – Part 2: Finding Shelter
And here is part three: Civil War Preparedness — Part 3: Protecting Yourself
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- INTUITION, THE CITY, AND WAR The Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point
- Sieges in Syria: Profiteering from Misery The Middle East Insitute
- Urban Operations U.S. Army Manual FM 3-06
- Boobytraps U.S. Army Manual FM 5-31
- DoD Security Engineering Facilities Planning
- Regarding structures and bombings
- Blast Safety Of The Building Envelope National Institute of Building Sciences
- Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) Marine Corps Manual MCWP 3-35.3
- Survival U.S. Army Manual FM 3-05.70
- SHELLING, SNIPING AND STARVATION: THE LAW OF ARMED CONFLICT AND THE LESSONS OF THE SIEGE OF SARAJEVO by KJ Riordan
- What You Need to Know About Urban War by Trevor Kek