Blog - February 2017

Isn’t Safe Drinking Water a Basic Human Right in Canada?

Water Faucet

How long was your last shower? Is the tap often left running while you do the dishes? How much time do you spend watering the lawn or washing the car? I can tell you that I’m definitely not he most conservative person when it comes to water, especially when it comes to a nice hot shower. I can also tell you that I don’t often think a lot about my water or where it comes from. Having it is a basic right isn’t it?

Safe and clean drinking water is likely the most underappreciated luxury that Canadians have access to, and why not? Canada only contains a whopping 7 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water! It’s easy to forget that most of us are very lucky, considering that the number of people living without access to fresh water hovers around the 1 billion mark. This might not be news to you, perhaps you have a relative or friend who has traveled around the world digging wells. What may shock you is the sizable number of people living without basic access to clean water right here in Canada, many of whom from First Nations communities.

According to the Council of Canadians over 100 drinking water advisories are in effect across more than 100 First Nations communities across the country. Many of these drinking water advisories have been in effect for more than a decade.  The fact that so many people have gone so long without access to clean water is mindboggling to me. How can a problem like this not be solved after so long? After all, basic plumbing and sanitation should be an easy fix, most people in Canada have it flowing right out of their faucets! You have to take a closer look to really understand the complicated situation that has been unfolding here for so many years.

According to the Council of Canadians report on the issue, the problem lies with funding. The Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is reportedly underfunded to install clean water infrastructure in Indigenous communities, particularly those in more isolated locales. While underfunding may a be a major player in this mess, mismanagement also seems to be a major contributor. The Ministry of Indian Affairs has, in recent years, been reportedly sending money back to the Federal Treasury Board marked as surplus, even though there are First Nations communities who are in dire need of water infrastructure upgrades.

The drinking water situation for First Nations communities has begun to look up despite the rocky path that has led up to today. In the 2016 Federal budget, the Liberal government has dedicated $1.8 billion over the course of five years to end the long-term drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities. While this news is definitely welcome and is likely a great relief to many communities, the question remains as to why it has taken so long for a government to take meaningful and direct action to address this issue. Water is a necessity of for life, so shouldn’t access to clean water be a basic human right? Should governments be responsible for making sure every community has the infrastructure to fulfill this right?

Devin Hock

About Devin Hock (KWIC Blog Contributor

Originally from Caledonia, Ontario, Devin is a recent graduate of Trent University's Environmental Science program. Devin's interests concern global and local environmental law and policy and how these subjects are conveyed and understood by the public. He is an avid whitewater canoeist and camper.