Can we end water insecurity for Canada’s Indigenous communities?

As I wrapped up my Impact Tour in Bolivia, here are the learnings I brought home to Canada, as we work together to ensure #WaterForEveryone.

Today, about 2.1 billion people around the world do not have access to safe water.1 As a result, more than 340,000 children under five die every year from water-related diseases — that is one child every two minutes.1

The problem goes beyond health concerns and high infant mortality rates. Lack of access to clean water also impacts education and the economy, because it forces family members to spend their time fetching water instead of attending school or going to work. Often, the water source is located very far from home, which increases the potential risks of sexual assault and violence — especially against women and children.

 

Impact, at home and abroad

As part of Water for People’s Impact Tour in Bolivia, I had the opportunity to visit rural communities living in those very circumstances. This experience allowed me to see the struggles they are facing every day to have their basic needs met, along with the hardship they go through, and the pain in their eyes. Such encounters leave no one indifferent. They are tremendously enlightening and make you realize how inconsequential most of our problems are.

Contrary to popular belief, the global water crisis does not only affect developing countries like Bolivia. We do not have to venture far to see the struggles of water insecurity; they exist right in our own backyard.

Canada is in a very fortunate position, given that it has approximately 7 per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources and less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population.2 However, not everyone in Canada has access to clean, safe drinking water. Many Indigenous communities are c still years away from having drinking water protection comparable to elsewhere in Canada. As a matter of fact, 58 long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves remain in place as of May 9, 2019.3 A drinking water advisory is issued to warn people that using their water poses a health risk. An advisory becomes long-term when it has been in place for over a year.

The mere fact that such an advisory remains after a full year without any actions being taken to lift it is unacceptable to me. Access to water is a fundamental human right. — and a total of 58 long-term drinking water advisories in a developed country where water resources are abundant represents a national shame. Even worse, some of these advisories have been in force for many decades now.

 

The case of Shoal Lake

As just one example of many, the infamous Indigenous Reserve Shoal Lake No. 40, straddling the border of Manitoba and Ontario, has lived under a boil water advisory since 1997.

A century ago, ancestral lands were appropriated and an aqueduct was built to supply the neighboring city of Winnipeg with drinking water from Shoal Lake. As part of this project, a diversion channel that cuts off the Indigenous community from the mainland was also created. In addition, a dam was constructed to ensure that the water flowing to Winnipeg remains pristine. Meanwhile, just downstream from the reservoir formed behind the dam, these community members are left with contaminated water.4

While the population of Winnipeg is enjoying clean water straight from their taps, the people living at the water source have spent the last 22 years boiling their water before consumption. Some residents simply drink it untreated, which elders in the community have linked to many children’s deaths. Most residents from Shoal Lake No. 40 rely on bottled water. That’s an expensive alternative which also raises safety concerns, as community members have died falling through the ice roads, the only point of access between island and mainland during the winter.

Shoal Lake No. 40 is not an isolated case. The list of similar examples could unfortunately go on. This is happening in our own backyard, in 2019.

Winnipeg Free Press
© https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/so-near-so-far-113126539.html

 

Collective effort

Even though efforts have been made to lift the long-term drinking water advisories in the past few years, there is still a lot of work to be done. The first step consists of being aware of the current situation, which is precisely the purpose of this blog post.

I believe that a significant change requires a collective effort. Therefore, it is critical to raise awareness among the public. To that end, do not be afraid to speak about the topic to those around you and feel free to share stories like this one through your social media channels. Let’s give a voice to Indigenous communities suffering from exclusion and social injustice without even the most basic human right.

Providing access to clean, safe water will not be possible without the necessary funding. Please give generously to non-profit organizations like Water for People, if you are able. I had the chance to witness their impact in the communities where they work, and I can guarantee that any donation really helps in tackling the global water crisis.

 

REFERENCES

  1. United Nations. (2019). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Retrieved May 12, 2019, from http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-sanitation-and-hygiene/
  2. Government of Canada. (2018, September 13). Water and the Environment. Retrieved May 12, 2019 from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/water-overview/frequently-asked-questions.html
  3. Government of Canada - Indigenous Services Canada. (2019, May 10). Ending long-term drinking water advisories. Retrieved May 12, 2019, from https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1506514143353/1533317130660
  4. Environmental Justice Atlas. (2019). Shoal Lake 40 boil water advisory, Canada. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://ejatlas.org/conflict/shoal-lake-40-boil-water-advisory