IF the society you live in was about to experience catastrophe or collapse due to climate change, rising geopolitical tensions and all-out war, or growing inequality leading to civil unrest, what would you do to protect yourself and your family?

A Karachiite of my acquaintance owns a small farm which has previously been used for weekends in the country. He fears that with rising inequality and hunger, civil unrest will increase. And if the US initiates another regional war, Pakistan may get dragged in again. He is preparing to move to his farm to become a full-time homesteader. He believes that this will be the safest place to ride out any coming storm.

Homesteading is an off-grid, self-reliant lifestyle. His farm is well stocked with fruit and vegetables, and he rears a few chickens and other animals. Solar panels provide electricity, and he has a water bore for clean drinking water. This is classic homesteading. All that’s needed is to store non-perishable foods and pickle and preserve surplus fresh foods.

Adapting our lifestyles to survive is human nature, and yet popular culture depicts homesteaders as eccentric and possibly extremist. The Good Life, a popular BBC comedy, which aired in the 1970s, depicted a couple who gave up corporate life to start homesteading in their middle-class suburban house, much to the dismay of their wealthy neighbours. More recently, the Netflix film Leave the World Behind showed us what life might look like if the world we knew became hostile to us.

When disaster strikes unequal societies, what happens?

Not everyone owns a farm they can retreat to. Most city dwellers live in urban settings like apartment blocks. These people are more likely to be ‘preppers’ rather than homesteaders. Preppers stockpile essentials against inevitable economic and climate crises. In the past, the most prepping an urban person might do was to carry a map, a torch, a spare tyre, and a tyre iron in their car boot. Drivers in harsh climates might also have kept blankets, dry clothes, energy bars, and water, as a precaution against the car breaking down.

Covid-19 was the first time that most people born into a globalised world experienced a truly global supply chain disruption. People in Europe began stockpiling dry pasta while those in Asia stockpiled rice. Hand sanitiser became a luxury item; my personal supply was stolen from my desk by ‘persons unknown’ and replacing it became a mission that took weeks for more sanitiser to be shipped, at great cost, from abroad. Most of us stockpiled something.

Online prepper guides and videos focus on the US and Australia, which are now regularly subject to large uncontrolled forest fires or hurricanes and require emergency evacuation from their homes. Increasing flooding in the UK has locals turning to prepping.

The basic needs of the prepper relate to water, food, and energy. They stockpile bottled water, tinned foods, dry rice, batteries, candles, matches, first aid equipment and essential medication. They have back-up torches, solar-powered lamps, and a solar panel charger for mobile devices. Travel documents and ID are kept with other essentials in a ‘go’ bag or ‘bug out’ bag which can be grabbed easily if evacuation becomes necessary.

You may be surprised to discover that your neighbours in Pakistan are also prepping. I have met families in ground floor apartments who have installed solar panels on their patios. Those who cannot instal solar are ensuring they have portable, affordable solar lanterns. Increasingly, families who can afford to are stockpiling essentials and non-perishables, hedging against ever-increasing food prices. They may not discuss prepping, but they are taking comm­on sense precautions agai­nst uncertainty.

Climate shocks, rising geopolitical tensions, and a global cost-of-living crisis mean many people cannot afford to stockpile essentials. As rising prices force the middle class to devolve into the working poor, they become as vulnerable as the unemployed. The gap betw­een the haves and have-nots becomes ever more extreme. When disaster strikes such unequal societies, what happens next? How far will people go to save their family?

Our species thrived because we lived in communities. Homesteading succeeds when the fruits of your labour are shared with labourers and other homesteads. Prepping works best when people share their skills and pool their knowledge within their neighbourhood. As climate events become more brutal, individual survival becomes more difficult; we must look to our distant past and recognise that the manual labourer is as critical to our survival as the scientist or strategist.

We need community leaders within neighbourhoods and apartment blocks to build trust and put disaster provision plans in place now. It will be too late after a disaster strikes.

The writer is researching human adaptation to climate change.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2024

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