In a previous blog, we imagined a place where more than two million people do not have access to safe running water and indoor plumbing, and many more live without wastewater sanitation. Now let’s imagine that we are one of those two million people, and we live in a community where one in three don’t have indoor plumbing – this is the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo Nation has a long history of inconsistent access to safe water sources. The region is arid and often experiences drought, which causes surface sources like creeks and springs to dry up. In addition, these sources are more likely to be microbially contaminated because they are open to the environment i.e. livestock grazing. Groundwater is often considered to be a safer source of water, but that is not always the case. On the Navajo Nation, groundwater can be contaminated from natural sources as well as abandoned mines. Although clean-up is being addressed by the federal government, thousands of abandoned mines remain.
In the covid-19 pandemic, washing hands is one of the most important ways to avoid sickness and spreading germs to others. As mentioned in the previous blog, many diseases are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water; hands can become contaminated or re-contaminated if using unsafe water. The lack of running water makes fighting the covid pandemic very difficult on the Navajo Nation – in May 2020, more were sick (per capita) than anywhere in the US. A National Public Radio interview with Dr. Loretta Christensen of the Indian Health Service reveals just how difficult it can be (5 minute listen or quick read).
“Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick…”
Photo and quote from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Several water projects are underway, but they will take time. The CARES act has provided some financial resources. Other groups like the Global Water Institute, DigDeep, and the US Water Alliance are advocating and intervening with solutions. You can help by following this link to the Navajo Water Project and learning as much as you can.