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

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2018 Nov;25(33):32938-32951. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-9432-4. Epub 2017 Jun 21.


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.

Keywords: Alaska; Health; Newtok; Water insecurity; Yupik.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alaska / ethnology
  • Alaskan Natives
  • Culture
  • Drinking Water*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Poverty
  • Social Networking*
  • Water Purification
  • Water Supply*


  • Drinking Water