Written by Carlee Wright, MSc Candidate Anchorage, Alaska | Sept 18-21, 2016
September has been a non-stop month full of school-related travel, and I am very fortunate to have recently returned from the Water Innovations for Healthy Arctic Homes (WIHAH) conference in Anchorage, Alaska (http://wihah2016.com) The Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group has endorsed a project titled “Improving Health through Safe and Affordable Access to Household Running Water and Sewer in Arctic and Sub-Arctic communities”, with the WIHAH conference comprising one of its objectives.
This conference was a vital opportunity for community members, professionals, and researchers from the United States, Canada, and Greenland to come together and discuss all aspects of drinking water in northern communities. Despite being developed nations with high overall service rates for household water and sewerage, many people living in rural and remote areas experience lower service rates, and face issues with accessing clean water in adequate quantities. Over 3000 homes in rural Alaska do not have any piped water, and instead rely on honey buckets and hauling drinking water home from central watering points in the community. Collection and storage of drinking water in containers also occurs in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut (The community with which I have worked), and so I was very interested in attending presentations and sharing my own research with such a diverse audience.
Over the 4-day program I was able to meet Alaska natives, economists, microbiologists, engineers, health researchers, and many others who were passionate about improving access to safe water in northern communities. Hearing about the realities of living without running water in some communities, and the immense resources required to provide water and sanitation services was overwhelming at times; however, it was also inspiring to hear success stories and learn about innovations and progress being made. For example, the Alaska water and sewage challenge (http://watersewerchallenge.alaska.gov) is a competition to develop affordable and sustainable water and waste systems that can be implemented in rural Alaskan villages (and hopefully other communities in the future). The challenge is down to three finalists, who unveiled their prototypes at the conference; I was even able to see a functioning prototype at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus!
Finally, a trip to Alaska cannot be complete without some outdoor fun, and so my trip concluded with a day cruise through Prince William Sound. It was a misty day (which happened to make everything look even more astonishing under the low-lying clouds), and although I have yet to see a moose on my two trips to Alaska, I was lucky enough to see bald eagles, belugas, otters, and orcas while out on the water. Getting so close to glaciers and appreciating their size and natural beauty is also something that I am not likely to forget any time soon!
This conference was an amazing opportunity to reconnect, make new acquaintances, learn, and think critically about water management and the future of water and sanitation in northern communities. For this I am incredibly grateful, and in the future I hope that I can continue to take part in more collaborative and transdisciplinary events such as WIHAH.
Hennessy TW, Bressler JM. Improving health in the Arctic region through safe and affordable access to household running water and sewer services: an Arctic Council initiative. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2016;1:1-6.