Clean Drinking Water Should Be a Human Right
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.
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.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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