U.S. Water News Online
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- As 2006 closes, 34 percent of Alaskan
Native villages still do not have modern water and sewer services.
That statistic was presented at a session in Anchorage recently
sponsored by the Alaska Environmental Health Association.
The session, hosted by the 24th Annual Alaska Health Summit, was
led by Public Health Service officers, Dr. Thomas Hennessy, director
of Arctic Investigations Program at the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, and Troy Ritter, senior environmental health
consultant for Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
"Does In-Home Water Service Reduce the Risk of Infectious
Diseases? An Evaluation in the Alaska Native Population," was the
title of their Anchorage presentation.
While building the infrastructure for modern water services in
rural villages has been an ongoing effort for some time now, it has
taken on a new urgency given the results of a recently completed
study that links lack of water service to infectious diseases.
The study, in which researchers surveyed the Yukon-Kuskokwim
region, examined the relationship between proximity to potable water
and wastewater disposal and the risk of infectious diseases.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Alaska is the least developed in
terms of modern water services and highest for rates of
hospitalization due to infectious diseases. For the study, modern
water services refers to pressurized water systems in the home,
meaning the ability to turn on a faucet.
"Practically all villages have a purified water point -- a small
treatment facility where villagers can go with a bucket to get
water," said Ritter.
These water points are often just a hose coming out of a small
building or room, he added.
This means that while access to drinking water is a lesser issue,
it is not the case with simple actions such as hand-washing and
disposing of wastewater.
Forty six percent of Alaska Native deaths in the 1950s, when
in-home water service in Alaskan villages was close to non-existent,
were due to infectious diseases, according to Hennessy. His research
shows that since 1957 the numbers of homes without water has gone
down and with them the rates of infections.
The research further shows that children in villages without
running water tend to have many more infectious diseases.
"Evidence that there is a connection," Hennessy said.
There are several problems with this situation, according to
Ritter and Hennessy. The main problem is a lack of awareness in these
communities about the importance of hygiene. For instance, many
people may reuse the same water bowl for washing their hands.
"Quantity is the most important characteristic of a water supply,"
said Ritter. "Water use less than eight gallons per capita per day
was shown to be coincident with serious health consequences," he
"The more water you get to the homes, the more opportunity they
have to wash hands and clean their clothes and dishes," said
The majority of villages that do not have modern water services
are either built on permafrost ground or on swampy tundra areas. That
creates difficulty and higher costs for building the necessary pipe
The size of the village is also a factor.
"The less families in a community, the less likely they are to get
modern water service," Ritter said.
Efforts to get running water to rural Alaskan villages have been
ongoing, with several agencies involved, among them tribal health
organizations. But, currently there is no near-term solution to this
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