Quantcast

Clean Drinking Water Should Be a Human Right

Insights + Opinion

Canada is among the world’s wealthiest nations, but our wealth is not equitably distributed. Many communities, particularly northern and Aboriginal, suffer from poor access to healthy and affordable food, clean water, proper housing and other necessary infrastructure. An ironic example of this disparity is at Shoal Lake, about two hours east of Winnipeg. There, two First Nations, Shoal Lake 39 and 40, are next to the City of Winnipeg’s main drinking-water supply, but Shoal Lake 40 has been on a boil-water advisory for decades.

It’s an abrogation of the basic right of all Canadians to have access to clean, safe drinking water.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Shoal Lake’s story is complicated. To begin, the Ontario-Manitoba border runs through the middle of the lake. Winnipeg has drawn its drinking water from the Manitoba side through a 153-kilometre aqueduct since 1914.

I visited Shoal Lake during the national Blue Dot Tour in support of environmental rights. Driving east along the Trans-Canada Highway toward Kenora, we crossed the aqueduct before arriving in Kejick, home of Shoal Lake 39. Chief Fawn Wapioke from Shoal Lake 39 and Chief Erwin Redsky from Shoal Lake 40 greeted us. We then participated in a traditional water ceremony organized by Shoal Lake 39 elders. Chief Wapioke explained that lake water taken for Winnipeg requires the community to maintain artificial water levels, which affects fishing and wild rice harvesting.

I also visited neighbouring Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, reached from the mainland by a short barge ride. Originally on a thin point jutting out from the lake’s west side, the community was cut off from its neighbors in 1914 by a dike and canal built to channel swampy water from the drinking-water intake pipe, converting the peninsula into an island.

The canal blocks access to the west, and Shoal Lake blocks access to the east. In summer, when the barge is running, there’s no problem leaving Shoal Lake 40 via Shoal Lake 39 and Highway 673. In winter, it’s possible to cross Shoal Lake by snowmobile or on foot, and a makeshift winter road has provided access to the west for the past few years. But twice a year, during freeze-up and spring thaw, it’s unsafe to cross the lake by road, barge or foot, isolating the community from the outside world, often for weeks at a time.

The situation is so serious people have died waiting for medical attention to arrive from Kenora, only an hour away on the Trans-Canada Highway. Stories abound about women miscarrying, houses burning down and other personal and public safety issues. “We were told that the City of Winnipeg’s removal of a secure land connection to First Nation No. 40 has directly led to the deaths of nine First Nation members,” says a letter from the International Joint Commission to the U.S. and Canadian governments. The commission also said First Nations weren't adequately compensated.

Less than 20 years ago, commercial fishing made Shoal Lake 40 economically self-sufficient, but Ontario’s government ended that in the early 1980s over concerns about overfishing. Eighteen years ago, a boil-water advisory was issued and never lifted because the community of 250 was deemed too small to justify a water-treatment plant. Today, an open garbage dump and overflowing septic tanks mar the island.

The human body is about 60 percent water. In a sense, this means the people of Winnipeg have a very real connection to the First Nations territories at Shoal Lake, source of the water they use for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. But while Winnipeg residents enjoy clean water, the people of Shoal Lake 40 suffer from substandard water, which puts their health at risk every time they turn on the tap. This is more than just unfair, and more than just an environmental problem. It’s an abrogation of the basic right of all Canadians to have access to clean, safe drinking water.

Canada may be a wealthy, developed country, but the fact that such deplorable conditions persist in places like Shoal Lake, and in hundreds of other First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities across Canada, is a national shame and must be resolved immediately. It’s yet another reason why the right to a healthy environment needs to be recognized by all levels of government in Canada—and ultimately, in our Constitution.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Fossil Fuel Dependence Disastrous for Economy and Environment

People’s Consumptive Demands Undermine Planet’s Life-Support Systems

Fighting Global Warming Will Improve Health of People Everywhere

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Yulia Lisitsa / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many people follow the lacto-vegetarian diet for its flexibility and health benefits.

Read More Show Less

By Jared Kaufman

Eating a better diet has been linked with lower levels of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But unfortunately 821 million people — about 1 in 9 worldwide — face hunger, and roughly 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. In addition, food insecurity is associated with even higher health care costs in the U.S., particularly among older people. To help direct worldwide focus toward solving these issues, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and undernutrition by 2030.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Healthline

Made from the freshly sprouted leaves of Triticum aestivum, wheatgrass is known for its nutrient-dense and powerful antioxidant properties.

Read More Show Less

mevans / E+ / Getty Images

The federal agency that manages the Great Barrier Reef issued an unprecedented statement that broke ranks with Australia's conservative government and called for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

A powerful earthquake struck near Athens, Greece and shook the capital city for 15 seconds on Friday, causing people to run into the streets to escape the threat of falling buildings, NBC News reported.

Read More Show Less
U.S. government scientists concluded in a new report that last month was the hottest June on record. Angelo Juan Ramos / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded — bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less
Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

By John R. Platt

For years now conservationists have warned that many of Madagascar's iconic lemur species face the risk of extinction due to rampant deforestation, the illegal pet trade and the emerging market for the primates' meat.

Yes, people eat lemurs, and the reasons they do aren't exactly what we might expect.

Read More Show Less