Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 33, pp 32938–32951 | Cite as

Household water insecurity and its cultural dimensions: preliminary results from Newtok, Alaska

  • Laura EichelbergerEmail author
Water, sanitation, pollution and health in the Arctic


Using a relational approach, I examine several cultural dimensions involved in household water access and use in Newtok, Alaska. I describe the patterns that emerge around domestic water access and use, as well as the subjective lived experiences of water insecurity including risk perceptions, and the daily work and hydro-social relationships involved in accessing water from various sources. I found that Newtok residents haul water in limited amounts from a multitude of sources, both treated and untreated, throughout the year. Household water access is tied to hydro-social relationships predicated on sharing and reciprocity, particularly when the primary treated water access point is unavailable. Older boys and young men are primarily responsible for hauling water, and this role appears to be important to male Yupik identity. Many interviewees described preferring to drink untreated water, a practice that appears related to cultural constructions of natural water sources as pure and self-purifying, as well as concerns about the safety of treated water. Concerns related to the health consequences of low water access appear to differ by gender and age, with women and elders expressing greater concern than men. These preliminary results point to the importance of understanding the cultural dimensions involved in household water access and use. I argue that institutional responses to water insecurity need to incorporate such cultural dimensions into solutions aimed at increasing household access to and use of water.


Water insecurity Yupik Newtok Alaska Health 



This project was funded in part by the University of Texas at San Antonio, Office of the Vice President of Research. A heartfelt thanks to the Newtok Village Council and the people of Newtok for allowing me to conduct this research and learn about their community. I am deeply grateful to the Carl family for providing my son with a warm, friendly place to call home while I worked. Thank you to Brittney Hammons for transcribing the interviews. Many thanks to Mike Brubaker, Michael Bruce, Tom Hennessey, Jack Hebert, Korie Hickel, James Temte, Tim Thomas, and Troy Ritter for many fruitful conversations and feedback on this research. Thanks especially to Jackie Schaeffer for her comments and corrections on an earlier draft. Finally, thank you to my Yupik and Iñupiaq elders for teaching me to stop and listen, to Sage for accompanying me on my journey, and to Austin for letting me introduce our son to new friends across rural Alaska. Quyana. Arrigaa taikuu.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Texas at San Antonio, College of Liberal and Fine ArtsSan AntonioUSA

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