Giving Compass' Take:

• Amanda Gold and Jessica Shakesprere highlight effective ways to increase access to clean water in Navajo Nation during COVID-19 and beyond. 

• What role can you play in increasing access to clean water?

• Learn about unequal access to clean water in the United States

In May, Navajo Nation had the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the country. As of September 29, there were more than 10,300 reported cases of COVID-19 and 555 confirmed deaths from a population of roughly 175,000. Public health measures have been enacted, including reservation-wide daily curfews and weekend lockdowns, increased testing and screening locations, and a surge in grassroots efforts by tribal members.

Lack of access to clean water may have exacerbated the spread of the coronavirus and has complicated efforts to curtail it. Today’s water crisis is rooted in settler colonialism and has been perpetuated by a system of structural racism via federal policies, institutional practices, and societal norms. Federal policies in the late 19th and early 20th century limited the reservation to the driest one-third of the Navajo’s ancestral homeland (PDF). Climate change and drought (PDF), chronic underfunding of infrastructure and health (PDF) programs, delayed water rights settlements, and contamination from industrial waste in unregulated drinking water have all worsened the problem.

Today, more than one-third of the population lacks access to running water or indoor plumbing facilities. The average American uses 88 gallons per day, but many residents of Navajo Nation have fewer than 10 gallons of water at home at any given time, sometimes using as little as 2 to 3 gallons of water per day.

We spoke with experts in the federal government, academic researchers, and nonprofit organizations working on the ground in Navajo Nation who highlighted some of the most promising solutions being implemented right now to help with the crisis.

  1. Expand simple solutions to meet urgent needs
  2. Build local capacity
  3. Increase funding for rural water and wastewater systems
  4. Support coordination of federal resources

Read the full article about water access in Navajo Nation by Amanda Gold and Jessica Shakesprere at Urban Institute.