Overall view of downtown Grbavica, a neighbourhood in Sarajevo. (Camera Operator: LT. STACEY WYZKOWSKI Date Shot: 19 Mar 1996)

As a westernized and modern country, Bosnia hosted the Olympic games in 1984. Only eight years later, the country was almost unrecognizable. It rapidly descended into a brutal war following its independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. 

During the war, the country’s capital, Sarajevo, was under seige, and civilians were subjected daily to shelling and sniper attacks. But the loss of friends and family members is just the half of it. 

People were also without water, electricity, and supplies for the 1,425 days that the siege lasted. That’s just over three years and ten months. 

Many didn’t have heat during the winter, traditional forms of commerce came to a standstill, and transportation systems dissolved. While it’s easy to assume that most of us will never live through anything like this, stranger things have surprised us as a nation--such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11. That said, there are lessons we can glean from this fairly recent event (and a similar one that is playing out in Venezuela right now - read Part 1 of our Survival Scout about that one). 

From making candles to keeping one’s sanity, read on. I’m going to highlight six specific lessons of survival illuminated during this difficult time in Bosnia. Using this information, you can ensure you and your family w0n’t be caught off guard when the unimaginable happens... 

 

#1: Develop Valuable Skills 

Although you can stockpile supplies for initial safety and preservation, there will eventually come a time when you run out of resources, or lose access to them. Considering that the siege of Sarajevo lasted almost four years, people who knew how to make or fix things had an advantage. 

According to Primal Survivor, one Bosnian shared, “I was a paramedic. In these conditions, my knowledge was my wealth. Be curious and skilled. In these conditions, the ability to fix things is more valuable than gold. Items and supplies will inevitably run out, but your skills will keep you fed.”

Take the time now to learn certain valuable survival skills such as... 

Making your own candles: Many times, we take electricity and light for granted. Without the ability to see in the dark, completing basic tasks is virtually impossible. Without lights and electricity, your next best option will be to use candles. Knowing how to make your own candles will go a long way, whether using them in your own home or bartering them for other goods. 

Basic first aid: Police, fire, and medical services in many ways disappeared during the siege. Citizens were left to their own devices and had to take care of their own injuries and illnesses. It’s worth investing time into learning basic first aid skills and understanding how to treat wounds, colds, infections, etc.

Basic carpentry skills: Due to the constant shelling during the siege, there was consistent damage to houses and other buildings in Sarajevo. Knowing basic carpentry and fix-it skills can ensure you won’t have to rely on hiring outside help to fix what’s been broken. Also, having these tools handy before a crisis is key.

 

#2: Stockpile Food and Source Renewable Foods 

Generally speaking, people can survive without food for up to three weeks. But inevitably, without food and energy sources for your body, starvation will become a real threat. In the case of the siege of Sarajevo, as food supplies dwindled, many perished from starvation, and things got desperate. Some people were forced to eat pigeons, rats, or even resort to cannibalism. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to try to stock up on foods. Instead, stockpile as much food as you can in advance. Nonperishable emergency food supplies are easy to order and store at home. 

However, there’s always a point at which your supply will run out--which is where renewable food sources come in handy. While some homes in Sarajevo had gardens, too many did not. People quickly learned to identify and eat urban edible plants such as stinging nettles, and even grass and leaves. (Quick pro-tip here: People may not care for weeds in their gardens, but dandelions—and certain other weeds—are edible and can be used for a whole host of culinary purposes in an emergency.) 

If you have the ability to start your own garden in your yard or home--don’t hesitate to do so. Additionally, take the time now to study up on urban edible plants and identify where in your neighborhood they grow. 

Understanding which of your local or regional plants are edible, and which can be used for medicinal purposes, will prove to be valuable knowledge. Whether it be adding acorns and dandelions to your diet, to sourcing wild calendula for healing wounds, burns, and rashes, there are plenty of urban plants that can come in handy. Having a deck of Edible Wild Foods Playing Cards on hand would be a good step to take today.

 

#3: Learn How to Purify Water 

In addition to losing a source of light and energy, a loss of electricity typically results in a loss of plumbing systems. This happened in the case of Sarajevo when water pumps went offline. People had to collect rainwater or fill water jugs at a local river--which also meant putting themselves at risk of sniper fire. 

However, sourcing water was only half the battle. Many people in Sarajevo died from disease as a result of drinking unpurified, dirty water. For this reason, it’s important to understand water purification techniques and have several

From a personal water filter to germicidal tablets, there is a wide range of solutions both large and small. That said, don’t wait until it’s too late to purchase them and learn how to use them. 

 

#4: Develop Community Bonds 

In many disaster scenarios, we can’t put our faith in or rely on help from government services. As The Atlantic shares, in Sarajevo “community had to bond together and help each other where the government would not, which was what the Sarajevans had done.” Take the time now to get to know your neighbors and develop a contingency plan to help each other out in case of an emergency or disaster situation. In case of a national emergency in the U.S., if you do the math, the government would in no way be able to come to the aid of 330 million Americans. 

Additionally, the currency and banking systems in Sarajevo were virtually nonexistent during the siege. People resorted to using barter as a way to get what they needed, such as candles, lighters, antibiotics, fuel, batteries, ammo, and food. Think about what items you could stock up on and use in a barter situation. (See our Survival Scout with some barter history and tips.) 

 

#5: Stay Positive and Occupy Your Mind 

Watching your city fall apart, losing loved ones, and diminished access to basic supplies will eventually wear on your mind and spirit. Bosnians spent a lot of time in their dark apartments, trying to remain safe. 

As a way to keep their minds off of the fear and devastation, they would play games, read books, and do other things to remain sane and positive. In addition to the basic survival items, make sure you are stocked up on books, games, dice, cards, and other modes of entertainment. 

 

#6: Have an Alternative Transport Option 

With gasoline and fuel shortages, along with the dangerous nature of driving a car around during a war, many Bosnians resorted to using bicycles to get around. 

In fact, a museum exhibition about the siege of Sarajevo featured a bicycle on display. In addition to being used for transport, the bike also came in handy as a generator for radios and other electrical devices. 

As Travelade reports, the Siege of Sarajevo “was the longest siege of the capital city in the history of modern warfare and it's truly one of the saddest episodes in the history of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.” 

It’s one such example in history that shows we don’t know it all and aren’t always 100% protected from the unimaginable. 

Remember to always be on your toes, because we don’t always know what is coming. 

Stay alert as always, friends. 

In liberty,

Elizabeth Anderson
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply

Sources:
https://www.theatlantic.com
https://www.sbs.com.au
https://www.primalsurvivor.net
https://www.businessinsider.com
https://travelade.com

 

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