Thousands of Alaska Native/American Indians in southwest Alaska are living without running water
Piped water and sewer systems are expensive and difficult to build in remote villages. There are over 4,500 Alaska Native/American Indian homes still without access to piped water and sewer in Alaska. In approximately 50 rural Alaska villages, residents must haul drinking water to their home and use honeybuckets (5-gallon buckets fitted with a toilet seat lid) for sewage disposal.
Recent research has found substantially higher rates of respiratory hospitalizations, skin infections, invasive bacterial infections, and dental caries among people living without running water. One in three infants is hospitalized for severe respiratory infection in communities lacking piped water service in southwest Alaska.
Those villages which have implemented water and sewer projects are frequently challenged to maintain their systems due to high operation and maintenance costs, complications due to extended periods of sub-zero temperatures and other harsh weather conditions, boggy soils, permafrost, unreliable electrical power, and the lack of skilled local operators.
In the 1990s, an alternative water and sanitation methodology called the small vehicle haul system was installed in several remote communities. The design included small water and sewer holding tanks installed at the home, and a community haul vehicle used to deliver potable water and remove sewage. Currently, the average cost for a delivery of 120-gallons of water and a sewage tank haul is $60. At this rate, it would cost a household over $4000 a month to purchase a the amount of water needed for healthy living. As an adaptation to the high costs in these mostly low-income communities, households began to display severe water rationing practices, with residents using less than 4 gallons/person/day. This water use is far below the amount needed to obtain a health benefit. Additionally, water rationing led to unhealthy practices like communal handwashing in a shared washbasin.
Innovation and technology are needed to provide adequate service at an affordable cost, and to dump the bucket for good.