How Much Water Do You Need to Survive in the Desert?

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The subject of people and water in the desert has generated considerable interest and confusion since the early days of World War II when the U.S. Army was preparing to fight in North Africa. At one time, the U.S. Army thought it could condition men to do with less water by progressively reducing their water supplies during training. They called it water discipline. It caused hundreds of heat casualties.

A key factor in desert survival is understanding the relationship between physical activity, air temperature and water consumption. The body requires a certain amount of water for a certain level of activity at a certain temperature. For example, a person performing hard work in the sun at 43 degrees C requires 19 liters of water daily. Lack of the required amount of water causes a rapid decline in an individual’s ability to make decisions and to perform tasks efficiently.

Your body’s normal temperature is 36.9 degrees C (98.6 degrees F). Your body gets rid of excess heat (cools off) by sweating. The warmer your body becomes — whether caused by work, exercise or air temperature — the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more moisture you lose.

Sweating is the principal cause of water loss. If a person stops sweating during periods of high air temperature and heavy work or exercise, he will quickly develop heatstroke. This is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Information courtesy of the U.S. Army Survival Manual