Sweden’s crisis agency advises ‘solidarity’ as water containers sell out

Sweden's crisis agency has called on residents to "prep with solidarity", after a week when camping stoves, water containers, and wind-up radios temporarily sold out in many shops across the country.

A person packs a camping stove into a cupboard full of emergency items.
A person packs a camping stove into a cupboard full of emergency items. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT (file picture)

“There’s an enormous difference between prepping and hoarding,” Anna Wennerström, press spokesperson for the Civil Contingencies Agency, told the TT newswire in an interview published on Sunday. “You have to prep with solidarity”.

She advised people in Sweden to follow the advice in the agency’s leaflet If Crisis or War Comes, and store enough food, water and other essentials to last about a week.

The leaflet, which advises citizens on what to do to prepare for a crisis in or military attack on Sweden, has been downloaded 88,205 times since February 29th. In the same period last year, it was downloaded just 790 times.

At the Biltema hardware superstore in Sisjön, outside Gothenburg, water containers were last week selling out almost as soon as they were delivered.

“We got a big delivery of water containers this morning which normally is enough to last for ten weeks,” the store’s manager Jonas Kjellgren told the Expressen newspaper on Wednesday. “They sold out in six hours.”

He said that camping stoves, wind up radios, charcoal, and portable generators were also seeing “extreme levels of sales”.

“Products are running out as soon as they come in. We have several deliveries on the way in now, but they will probably only be enough for a few days,” he continued. “There are goods in lorries in our central warehouses, but the goods still aren’t able to come in in the amounts we need.”

The XXL sports chain reported a similar leap in sales last week, with sales of camping stoves up by 1,100 percent, freeze-dried food up by 500 percent, sleeping bags up by 300 percent, and head torches up by 250 percent.

At the same time, supermarkets in Sweden say they are witnessing increased sales of dried goods. There is, however, none of the panic-buying seen at the start of the coronavirus crisis in 2020, when many Swedes started hoarding basic materials such as toilet paper.  

“There is a tendency to buy dried goods like rice and pasta,” said Martin Ekgrund, the owner of Ica Maxi in Högsbo, outside Gothenburg, who warned against hoarding. “Hoarding isn’t something we advocate. If some customers take too much, others will have to go without.”

Åsa Hagelberg, national coordinator at Sweden’s Civil Defence Association, recommended that every household should keep about 21 litres of water stored per person, based on the average adult needing to drink between two and three litres of water a day. 

“We perhaps use 100 to 150 litres a day per person when there’s no crisis, but it’s impossible to store that much,” she said.

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KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

After decades of staying out of military alliances, Finland and Sweden are about to decide whether to apply to join Nato, as a deterrent against aggression from their Eastern neighbour Russia. Here are five things you need to know.

KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

The Nordic neighbours are expected to act in unison, with both expressing a desire for their applications to be submitted simultaneously if they decide to go that route.

A historic U-turn

For decades, a majority of Swedes and Finns were in favour of maintaining their policies of military non-alignment. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sparked a sharp U-turn. The change was especially dramatic in Finland, which shares a
1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia. After two decades during which public support for Nato membership remained
steady at 20-30 percent, polls now suggest that more than 75 percent of Finns are in favour.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for assurances from Moscow that it would not invade. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland remained militarily non-aligned.

Sweden, meanwhile, adopted an official policy of neutrality at the end of the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. Following the end of the Cold War, the neutrality policy was amended to one of military non-alignment.

Close Nato partners

While remaining outside Nato, both Sweden and Finland have formed ever-closer ties to the Alliance. Both joined the Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and then the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997. Both countries are described by the Alliance as some of “Nato’s most active partners” and have contributed to Nato-led missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sweden’s and Finland’s forces also regularly take part in exercises with Nato countries and have close ties with Nordic neighbours Norway, Denmark and Iceland — which are all Nato members.

Sweden’s military

For a long time, Swedish policy dictated that the country needed a strong military to protect its neutrality. But after the end of the Cold War, it drastically slashed its defence spending, turning its military focus toward peacekeeping operations around the world.

In 1990, defence spending accounted for 2.6 percent of GDP, compared to 1.2 percent in 2020, according to the government.

Mandatory military service was scrapped in 2010 but reintroduced in 2017 as part of Sweden’s rearmament following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Combining its different branches, the Swedish military can field some 50,000 soldiers.

In March 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden announced it would increase spending again, targeting two percent of GDP “as soon as possible”.

Finland’s military

While Finland has also made some defence cuts, in contrast to Sweden it has maintained a much larger army since the end of the Cold War. The country of 5.5 million people now has a wartime strength of 280,000 troops plus 600,000 reservists, making it significantly larger than any of its Nordic neighbours despite a population half the size of Sweden’s.

In early April, Finland announced it would further boost its military spending, adding more than two billion euros ($2.1 billion) over the next four years. It has a defence budget of 5.1 billion euros ($5.4 billion) for 2022.

Memories of war

While Sweden has sent forces to international peacekeeping missions, it has not gone to war for over 200 years. The last conflict it fought was the Swedish-Norwegian War of 1814. It maintained its neutral stance through the two World Wars.

Finland’s memories of warfare are much fresher. In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union. Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, which took place during one of the coldest winters in recorded history. But it was ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

A 1948 “friendship agreement” saw the Soviets agree not to invade again, as long as Finland stayed out of any Western defence cooperation. The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandization”.