New fund seeks donations to help Alaska Native communities facing environmental disasters
A new fund is calling for private donations to help Alaska Native communities deal with disasters related to climate change. This source of funding almost certainly won’t be enough to fully respond to the environmental disasters facing Alaskan communities, but it does at least have one advantage over traditional grants.
In the spring of 2021, a major flood swept through the village of Buckland in northwest Alaska, washing away roads and destabilizing homes. The community needed money quickly. Fortunately, a new fund had just been created for this specific purpose: the Climate Impact Response Fund, created by the Healthy Alaska Natives Foundation of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). A few weeks after the disaster, the fund sent a check for $10,000 to the community to purchase emergency gravel to shore up roads and house foundations.
When you’re responding to an environmental disaster, $10,000 isn’t a lot of money. However, the ANTHC’s senior director of development, Jen Harrington, who helps run the fund, said there was a need for small amounts of money that could be sent quickly.
“If we had, for example, chosen to seek federal funding or state funding, the lead time would have been much longer and we would not have had the ability to be as agile and as fast as we were. “Harrington said. .
Another example where this fund would have been helpful is at Kotlik several years ago. In May 2019, storms and spring flooding suddenly eroded much of the shoreline. Tribal administrator Pauline Okitkun said there was one house left almost in the Kotlik River.
“Part of the house was hanging over the edge of the river. A quarter of it,” Okitkun said.
The tribe had to move immediately and needed the money to do so. The grant application process often takes months, and Okitkun didn’t have that kind of time.
“At the time, we had bingo funds available for emergencies to hire local people to move the house,” Okitkun said.
By raising a few thousand dollars from the tribe’s bingo funds, the tribe was able to move the house 50 feet from the river’s edge, putting it out of immediate danger.
The Climate Impacts Response Fund hadn’t yet been created when this happened, but Okitkun said Kotlik may need to rely on it this year. If storms this spring suddenly cut off large chunks of shoreline, the tribe could once again need emergency funding to quickly move homes that are near the shore.
“If we are able to seize this opportunity for the coming year? Yes, I would take that. It would definitely help,” Okitkun said.
A longer-term solution would require a lot more money than the fund could provide. Okitkun said Kotlik was talking about a bigger relocation like Newtok or Napakiak. These communities are looking at total costs of over $100 million for their moves. Statewide, the Federation of Alaska Natives estimates that it will cost $4.5 billion over the next 50 years to protect infrastructure in 144 Alaska Native communities from erosion, flooding or melting permafrost. Existing state and federal funding only scratches the surface of what is needed.
The Climate Impact Response Fund was officially launched in November 2021, a few months after awarding a grant to Buckland. Since then, the fund has only raised $22,000. Harrington of the ANTHC said it was clearly not a panacea for Alaska Native communities facing climate change.
“It was certainly not created in the expectation that it would fill the billions of dollars in funding gaps needed in Alaska from federal and state entities,” Harrington said. “Our goal here was to try to create something that allowed people to get help very quickly.”
If you would like to donate to the Climate Impact Response Fund, you can go to the ANTHC foundation website at healthyalaskanatives.org.