Skip to main content

Increasing the availability of clean drinking water in small Arctic villages and communities

June 11, 2019


Delaney Lawson


            Many small, remote Indigenous villages within the Arctic lack necessary accessibility and availability of fresh, drinking water. The majority of water in these communities comes from water collected from nearby sources, a tap water pump shared by the village, or purchased bottles of water. All three of these sources have flaws, and the proposed policy attempts to counteract these flaws as much as possible. The policy includes, but is not limited to, decreasing the contamination of water sources in the vicinity, creating procedures to decrease the likelihood of tap water pumps freezing during the winter, and increasing access to communities through the building of new roads. The nation-states in which each village resides will be responsible for the majority of the funding required by this initiative, although various environmental and social equality organizations are likely to contribute as well.


Fresh water in small Indigenous communities has historically been gathered from ice melt, brooks, lakes, or any other similar sources. This water is often collected in buckets taken back to the villages by foot or by sled. Within villages, it is likely that families without the strength or machinery to access the water themselves have experienced drastic constraints regarding accessibility to fresh water. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that these sources of water are becoming contaminated and are beginning to cause health concerns for the people living in these remote environments (Goldhar et al. 2013). Additionally, climate change is increasingly impacting the availability of clean water from these sources, leading to an increased dependence on purchased tap water and bottled water.

Tap water in small Arctic communities is not comparable to the tap water in the majority of the United States or other highly developed nation-states. Many times, the tap water in these villages will consist of a pump somewhere in the town that families will walk to in order to collect chlorinated water. It is common for individual families to be expected to cover the cost of connecting their home to the main water supply, and many cannot afford it so they continue to live without access to clean water within their home. Tap water pumps also freeze extremely often throughout the winter, leaving the community without clean drinking water until the pipes melt (Goldhar et al. 2013, Medeiros et al. 2017).

Given the unreliability of tap water, Indigenous villages have also begun to rely heavily on purchased bottled water. This is a problem because transportation to these villages is extremely difficult, with many not having any roads leading to them. Therefore, bottles must either be shipped in during the ice-free season or flown in, which are both expensive and weather-dependent solutions. The availability of water is largely dependent on the frequency of which store owners order bottles, and how often the weather permits for those orders to be delivered. Therefore, during cold, harsh winters, it is not uncommon for the people of these small communities to be unable to travel and collect their own water, for the tap water pipe of the village be frozen, and for the stores to be sold out of bottles (Goldhar et al. 2013).

This problem of water availability and accessibility is affecting nearly all Indigenous peoples throughout the Arctic, although the details of the proposed policy are heavily based on experiences of Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut and Nunavut, Canada. The proposed policy will ideally be applicable to many villages and Indigenous groups throughout the Arctic. Current policies addressing water availability in the Arctic do not adequately consider the preference for water collected from the land, or the year-round inaccessibility to these small villages and communities. Additionally, current policies do not consider the distinctive needs of specific communities, and attempt to apply the same procedures to all villages. This proposed policy will address all of the stated issues regarding current drinking water policies within the Indigenous Arctic (Daley et al. 2015).

Policy Recommendations

Water accessibility and availability should be increased in small, remote Arctic communities through the bettering of the quality of natural water sources in the close vicinity, the implementation of procedures to prevent the freezing of tap water pipes in winter, and increased levels of possible transportation to and from these villages.

All remote communities should be identified and visited by representatives of the nation-state in which they reside. These representatives will meet with Elders of the community and discuss the most common water collection sources for the village, and the favored means of obtaining drinking water (collecting it nearby, obtaining it from the tap, purchasing bottled water, etc.). Based on those responses, the nation-states will prioritize which aspects of water availability require the most focus and resources with regards to the individual village.

In order to improve the quality of the natural water sources within the close vicinity, nation-states will visit the sites identified by the Elders and run tests in order to determine the most prevalent contaminants. The source of these contaminants will attempt to be identified and prevented through the help of experts. If these sources can be eliminated, the quality of water will improve over time and lead to increased dependence from the community on water gathered from these sources.

In order to prevent the freezing of tap water pipes during harsh winters, nation-states will attempt to create and enforce policies and procedures that can be easily implemented by members of the community. They can, for example, explore heating technologies that can be deployed around exposed pipes during the winter. Additionally, the attachment of a home plumbing system to the village tap water supply will be made easy, and all existing houses will be connected immediately, free of cost. The creation of these procedures will allow access to clean, flowing tap water all year round.

Transportation to and from these remote villages can be increased by the creation of roads connecting the communities to one another and to larger towns. These developments will be paid for by the nation-states in which the village resides. Increased numbers of roads will allow for more access to bottled water supplies when conditions become harsh and the weather no longer allows for these peoples to be reached through boat or by flight (Medeiros et al. 2017).

This policy is supported by Indigenous values because the needs of the individual communities are determined through the input and traditional knowledge of the elders within the village, and actions are prioritized based on the information provided. Additionally, Indigenous peoples largely value equal treatment of all beings, and the inaccessibility to clean drinking water solely due to their geographic location does not align with this value (Macklem 2008). Increased availability of fresh water will then aid in promoting and actualizing this Indigenous value of equality between peoples.

The implementation of this policy becomes more and more important as climate change increases and leads to increased contaminants within natural water sources preferred by community members. This policy will allow for a much-needed increase in access to clean water in the remote Indigenous villages of the Arctic through the decreasing of contaminating sources, the prevention of water pipes freezing in the winter, and increased transportation possibilities between identified communities and larger Arctic towns.

Barriers to Implementation

            This policy may be difficult to implement as a result of damage caused to natural areas as construction of the roads occurs (Atkinson et al. 2005). In order to avoid this, nation-states can collect information based on animal migrations and determine the best path for a road that would avoid causing harm or stress to animals present in the vicinity. Additionally, the contamination sources for freshwater brooks and lakes may be expensive and difficult to identify and prevent. This may result in difficulty of the adoption of the policy. However, the accumulation of experts and funding from various environmental organizations may aid in easing the financial burden of nation-states that support and wish to adopt this proposed policy regarding the accessibility and availability of fresh, clean drinking water in the remote communities of the Arctic.


The accessibility and availability of fresh water in remote Indigenous communities of the Arctic must be increased. The people living there should not need to suffer from the consumption of contaminated water or a lack of water in winter months solely due to their geographic location. Fresh water in these villages is mostly collected from nearby sources, obtained from a community tap, or purchased in bottles. All three of these methods have proven to be less than ideal, and a policy has been proposed in this paper to address all of those flaws and increase the likelihood of clean water availability year-round in these remote villages. The policy includes steps to decrease contamination and the freezing of pipes, and increase transportation to these communities. In order to ensure the successful implementation of the proposed policy, individual nation-states must adopt the policy and begin efforts by accumulating funding and research aid from organizations, most of which will likely have environmental or social equality-based focuses.

Works Cited

Atkinson DM, Deadman P, Dudycha D, Traynor S. “Multi-criteria evaluation and least cost path analysis for an arctic all-weather road.” Applied Geography 25:4 287-307. 2005. 19    March 2019.

Daley K, Castleden H, Jamieson R, Furgal C, Ell L. “Water systems, sanitation, and public          health risks in remote communities: Inuit resident perspectives from the Canadian         Arctic.” Social Science & Medicine. 125:124-132. 2015. 18 March 2019.

Goldhar C, Bell T, Wolf J. “Rethinking Existing Approaches to Water Security in Remote           Communities: An Analysis of Two Drinking Water Systems in Nunatsiavut, Labrador,      Canada.” Water Alternatives 6:3 462-486. 2013. 15 March 2019.

Macklem, Patrick. “Distributing Sovereignty: Indian Nations and Equality of Peoples.”    HeinOnline, 17 July 2008. 17 March 2019.

Medeiros AS, Wood P, Wesche SD, Bakaic M, Peters JF. “Water security for northern peoples:   review of threats to Arctic freshwater systems in Nunavut, Canada.” Dordecht 17:3 635-         647. 2017. 18 March 2019.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.