This post is an excerpt from BCCIC’s shadow report: Where Canada Stands – Vol II.
Canada is a leader on clean water and sanitation relative to other nations. There are three areas in particular where Canada has performed well with respect to the targets under SDG 6: access to safe and affordable drinking water (Target 6.1), access to equitable sanitation (Target 6.2), and transboundary cooperation on water management (Indicator 6.5.2). All targets under SDG 6 see room for improvement in certain subnational cases.
Overall, the expert interviewees expressed that Canada is an example of a nation with an abundant supply of water that does not manage it particularly well. Thus far, shortcomings in our water management strategy have not caused widespread problems due to our abundance of available clean water and sprawling population. Moving forward, however, with increasing pressures from industry, population growth, climate change, aging infrastructure, and lack of robust water laws and standards – these shortcomings may prevail, leaving more communities behind in Canada.
Despite Canada’s relatively universal access to clean water, there are still groups that are left behind: rural and Indigenous communities, and natural ecosystems. In the future, however, all Canadians may be at risk of restricted access to clean drinking water because we are not identifying and responding to emerging challenges. Floods and droughts due to climate change and contaminate water due to aging infrastructure and polluted watersheds may threaten the health, safety, and sustainable growth of all Canadian communities.
Dr. Zafar Adeel, Executive Director of the Pacific Water Research Centre at Simon Fraser University, outlines a series of accessibility challenges surrounding clean drinking water that are particularly serious in Canada.
Chronic boil advisories in remote communities affect approximately 1% of the population, but that 1% is truly being “left behind.” The government has committed to ending all long-term advisories by March 2021, however several observers are concerned that this deadline may not be met. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that the minimum funds required to meet the current and future needs of these communities affected by boil advisories is approximately $3.2 billion.
As of the end of 2017, there were 67 boil advisories in Canada, 40 of which had been in place for over a decade. Neskantaga in Northern Ontario has been in a boil advisory for over 20 years due to a long defunct water treatment plant. Consequently, each household lives on rationed bottled water which must be budgeted for cleaning, cooking and drinking. The repercussions of water scarcity may compound with other social and health struggles in the community: 50% of band members are addicted to prescription drugs and there is a suicide crisis in the community. Many young people move away for health reasons. The boil advisory crises in rural Indigenous communities are inexcusable, given that the technology and funds to rectify these situations are easily available. If the government is serious about beginning the path to Reconciliation, it will achieve its 2021 goal as soon as possible.
As of the end of 2017, there were 67 boil advisories in Canada, 40 of which had been in place for over a decade.