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World Water Day: Water Scarcity for Indigenous Peoples

World Water Day was established to recognize the importance of fresh, drinkable water around the world. With so many communities – including entire countries – without a reliable source of water, this year’s theme of “leaving no one behind” sheds light on the issue and emphasizes water as a basic human right for all. Today, we are bringing attention to the exceptionally high scarcity of water that plagues American Indian reservations across the United States.

For decades, access to clean water has challenged residents of the Navajo Nation who routinely haul water for drinking, cooking and other household needs. Particularly due to mining, Navajo, as well as Hopi, lands have contaminated water sources with high amounts of uranium and arsenic. Environmental issues such as the 2015 EPA spill of three million gallons of wastewater in the Animas and San Juan rivers also impact clean water for indigenous communities.

Infrastructure in remote reservation communities is often outdated and funding for repairs and improvements is often unavailable. The exact number of reservation homes without water is not easy to find, though across the Navajo Nation one in five families hauls water, and stories such as those in Flint, Michigan, and Kivalina are in abundance.

Infrastructure also causes water outages when winter hits. One winter day when I was about 9 or 10 years old, we accidentally turned off our dripping water, so the pipes in our 60-year-old home froze and broke. We were without running water for months, and a generous neighbor let us fill five-gallon buckets to use for laundry, cleaning and even bathing. This scenario is all too common in reservation homes and results from many factors, such as the age of our homes, winter preparedness and a lack of skilled tradesmen.

When environmental issues like the EPA spill, or weather emergencies such as blizzards or tornados, impact access to water, PWNA disaster relief services include bottled water and other supplies for the reservations. Water is also included in deliveries that support food pantries, community health fairs and more. In 2018 alone, PWNA provided nearly 58,000 gallons of water to tribal communities in need.

Hopefully, aims like “leaving no one behind” and sustainable development will uplift these communities, though this can’t come quickly enough. Today, I hope you will take the time to learn more about the water problems facing our communities and what you can do to help.

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