"When you think about infrastructure, design, and meeting the needs of people in the Arctic, you have to really look at the environmental impact and the environmental change that is constantly happening. So basically you are trying to engineer for the moon and make it affordable for planet Earth."
- Jackie Qatalina Schaeffer
- Jackie Qatalina Schaeffer
Native American households are 19 times more likely to lack indoor plumbing than White households (U.S. Water Alliance 2019). At least 33 Alaska Native (AN) communities lack piped water and sewer systems, and residents usually have to self-haul water by foot. Inadequate funding, engineering challenges, and affordability in remote Alaskan communities have long hindered the installation and maintenance of centralized piped water and sanitation systems in remote Alaska. In response, ANTHC engineers developed a targeted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) intervention specifically for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities, known as the Portable Alternative Sanitation System (the PASS). The overarching research question is whether the PASS addresses household water insecurity in unserved homes in culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable ways. ANTHC employed a community-engaged, mixed-methods approach beginning in October 2018 in the remote AN community of Kivalina, where there are currently 50 households with PASS units. The team gathered 4 seasons of pre-installation data and 4 seasons of post- installation data from 24 households (16 PASS households and 8 non-PASS households). The preliminary data indicates that, compared to pre-installation and non-PASS households, PASS households had greater household water storage capacity, improved access to handwashing facilities during warmer months, and reduced contact with human waste. In addition, the majority of children under 12 had fewer episodes of symptoms annually related to skin-, respiratory-, and gastro-intestinal infection after the installation of PASS in their homes. The data indicates no significant increase in total in-home water use, and almost half of participating PASS households (6 of 14) reported using washbasins with dirty water during colder months. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted data collection and dramatically changed the socio-environmental context of water use and waste management. The data collection and in-person community engagement activities in Kivalina are currently on hold until travel restrictions are lifted. However, ANTHC is beginning to initiate research activities in 10 other communities that are receiving a modified version of the PASS as a direct result of the CDC Foundation COVID-19 pandemic response efforts.
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