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Water Crisis in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation

Water Crisis in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation

In the wake of the heightened effects of global warming, water scarcity has been a major problem for different communities around the world. Surprisingly, certain communities face water crisis not because of the global warming impacts, but due to the failure of the public administration to lay down mechanism to ensure people get clean and sufficient water. Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Community is an ideal community that has suffered from adequate and clean water in the watch of the government. “Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Community” is a community situated in Kenora District, Ontario and Manitoba’s Eastman Region. As at September 2017, the community had a total registered population of 641, out of which the on-reserve population was 285. Shoal Lake 40 community is part of the Bimose Tribal Council, which is a member of the “Grand Council of Treaty 3” (Lui, 2015). Shoal Lake 40 community has inhibited a human-made island and can be accessed through barge transport from the dock of Shoal Lake 39 First Nation in Kejick, Ontario. During winter, the community can be accessed easily by ice roads. Besides, the establishment of a permanent road linking Shoal Lake 40 with the federal-provincial highway is ongoing, after an agreement was signed by the three levels of government on how they would cover the cost. Currently, the First nation possesses limited retail outlets, necessary infrastructure, and outdoor and indoor recreational facilities. The current report is an appeal to the Canadian Government, which is tasked with the responsibility of providing the citizens with essential needs to come up with appropriate mechanisms to avail clean water for drinking to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community members.

The Relevant Audience for This Report

Water is a significant requirement in sustaining life. As such, there has been an increasing demand for it caused by global population growth as well as the rate at which consumption and population have made useable water scarcer. Even with the advancements in technology around the world, some communities like the First Nations community have not been able to find safe sources of drinking water which exposes them to water-borne diseases and other fatal infections (Lui, 2015). Ideally, water conservation enables communities to ensure a sustainable supply of drinking water. Thankfully, many government and charity organizations all over the world have continued to work for decades to raise awareness concerning this critical issue. However, it seems the First Nation community has not achieved maximum benefits from the Canadian Government, making its community members including women and children to continue drinking water from unsafe sources. As such, the report appeals to the federal government of Canada to formulate proper strategies to provide clean drinking water to the community.

The Current Challenge and its Effects on Community Members

Canada is recognized for its high living standards, a strong commitment to human rights and vast freshwater systems. However, for citizens living in unit, rural and First Nations communities, a different experience is dominant (Phare, 2009). In 2017, it was estimated that more than 150 communities were living under boiling water advisories. Out of this number, 71 were considered to be long-term advisories. One of the communities experiencing this crisis is the Shoal Lake 40, a First Nation reserve, situated in Manitoba-Ontario Border. The community had not had a reliable source of drinking water since 1997, which was the year when the government imposed a boiling water advisory on the community. Before this, the residents of the Shoal Lake 40 were able to draw water locally. The disruption of the community’s water supply occurred due to the establishment of an aqueduct constructed to supply water to the neighboring city of Winnipeg in 1919. The construction of the Winnipeg water supply system left First nation’s rural residents by the wayside regardless of being situated less than 150 kilometers away as shown in diagram 1.
Between July 2015 and 2016 April. Human Rights Watch carried out a study in First Nations communities in Ontario to identify the implications of the water problem and why it has persisted for decades. In the study, 99 households, which are homes to 352 residents in Batchewana, Shoal Lake 40, Grassy Narrows, Neskantaga, and other Six Grand First River communities were surveyed (Klasing, 2016). The research found that the state had violated many fundamental rights of the First Nation citizens by failing to bring the water crisis to an end. Contaminants in the dirty water consumed by First Nation reserves according to the study entailed uranium, coliform, and cancer-causing Trihalomethanes. Although some of these conditions occur naturally, others emanate from organic materials found in water sources. Exposing citizens to such contaminants may have adverse health implications ranging from increased risk of cancer to severe gastrointestinal disorders and other diseases as indicated in Diagram 2.In Diagram 2, Neoplasms (Cancer) was high at 141.5 and circulatory diseases at 213.6 in First Nations in Canada in 2016, as a result of using contaminated water. A separate study conducted by Klasing (2016) uncovered that while a considerable number of public health concerns like waterborne diseases and other related fatalities have been avoided through boiling water advisories, the human rights impact and social costs of the crisis cannot be ignored. In a community like Shoal Lake 40, where boiling water advisories have been in place for more than 20 years, many generations have grown up without drinking water from taps. On average, the reserve spends more than 100000 U.S. Dollars every year on bottled water, but residents still bathe and wash their household items using untreated water.

Sources of the Challenge

The drinking water crisis in Shoal Lake 40 has persisted for decades, yet it can be resolved. Canada has many times acknowledged many challenges while trying to address the problem. Since 1977, the Canadian government has conducted investigations on the problem, developed possible solutions and allocated funds in its budget to solve the problem (Klasing, 2016). The state’s audit reflects a tendency of underperforming and overpromising, without efficient evaluation of whether the invested funds produce positive results. In other words, billions of Dollars invested by the government over the years have not translated into clean drinking water for Shoal Lake 40 community members. The prominent causes of the water crisis in this region can be blamed on lack of regulations, and inadequate efforts by the government to protect the rights of its citizens among other challenges. Klasing (2016) argues that legal discrimination that has been in place concerning the regulation, protection, and provision of clean water to people living in the reserves is a primary contributor to this problem. Territorial and provincial laws that govern sanitation and safe water for drinking in Canada have not been extended to address the issues faced by First Nation communities.
For years, the Canadian government has not taken necessary measures to ensure First Nations citizens are protected and treated equally— First Nations lack clean water regulations. As such, it is not surprising that this disparate regulatory system has resulted in disparate results regarding sanitation and safe drinking water.  The government has established and operated systems on reserves without well-structured protections and legal standards that it has adopted for all other Canadian residents (Klasing, 2016). The Canadian government uses contract law to govern the provision of clean drinking water for its citizens on reserve. However, even with different funding agreements between First Nations and the government, citizens including Shoal Lake 40 community members live without clean drinking water. While other citizens occupying major cities can access clean water, the reserve communities have been disregarded by the government, and this is reflected by a large number of advisories that have existed for years in First Nations.
A portion of maintenance and operation costs and all capital costs for systems are catered for by the federal government. INAC (Northern and Indigenous Affairs Canada) is the federal department which deals with all water and wastewater issues affecting First Nations (Klasing, 2016). Notably, INAC has not done much to bring a lasting solution to lack of clean drinking water in First Nation communities including Shoal Lake 40 community. Part of this issue can also be blamed on insufficient and unpredictable government funding toward the construction, operation, monitoring and maintenance of wastewater and water systems. Ideally, the federal government of Canada funds a fraction of maintenance and operations costs, leaving the remaining portion for the poor reserves to finance. Besides, the state does not examine the financial strength of the reserves and their ability to fund the difference. Apart from funding and regulatory problems, lack of government support for private wastewater and water systems and lack of source water protections also contribute to the crisis experienced by Shoal Lake 40 community members.

Evaluation: Possible Solutions

            A range of strategies can be used to address the water crisis in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community. First, the government can provide more support to private water and wastewater systems currently operating in the region to aid them in achieving their sole goal of availing clean drinking water to the residents. The government can do so by establishing a robust infrastructure that will facilitate the treatment and transportation of clean water to the community members’ residential areas including their homes. Also, the quality of source water impacts significantly on drinking water. While water treatment aims at making source water safe for drinking, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community has many systems that depend on ground and surface water, which means that its water quality is directly influenced by source water conditions (Klasing, 2016). Source water protection obligations are governed by the provincial law making it logistically and legally tricky for Shoal Lake 40 First Nations community to involve in the issue. Consequently, the federal government can involve in consultations concerning commercial activities that influence the community’s waters and traditional territories. The primary sources of water for the community includes lakes, rivers, and streams. The sources have deteriorated because of industrial pollution and growing municipalities. The government can involve in consultations with the industries and local authorities to come up with ways to prevent pollution and keep the water sources clean.
Water crisis facing the Shoal Lake 40 First Nations community is a severe problem that calls for the deeper analysis and understanding. As such, the government can establish a commission to analyze the problem and suggest the best solutions including recommendations and policies on the best ways to provide clean water to the community. In order to address the core water problems affecting the community, the commission will work closely with the community members including seeking their opinions through interviews, focus groups, surveys and filling questionnaires on what they think are the solutions to the ever-existing water crisis. The community engagement should be undertaken throughout the entire period the commission will be in office to make them feel that they are part of the project being implemented by the government. Involvement of the key stakeholders in the execution and implementation of the project will minimize rejection and at the same time attract the support of the community members. The government should also involve the commission in actualization of the possible solutions presented in the commission report. Once water management policies and the necessary infrastructure to distribute water in the people’s home has been set, periodic follow ups and assessments should be done to make sure the project is meeting its objectives of providing clean water to the community. In case of discrepancies, appropriate measures should be undertaken to retain the project on the right course of action. By doing so, the provision of clean water to the Shoal Lake 40 First Nations community will become a routine rather than a one off event.
Although there may be many alternative solutions to the water crisis in Shoal Lake 40 community, the best solution is for the Canadian government to act to eliminate discrimination in fact and law. Ideally, everyone is entitled to the right to clean water without any form of discrimination. Therefore, Shoal Lake 40 First Nations community members have the right to access safe, physically accessible, affordable and acceptable water for their domestic and personal use. Research has proven that the water problem in Shoal Lake 40 First Nations community like in other indigenous communities is caused by institutionalized discrimination and inequality. By eliminating discrimination, the federal government will be able to fulfil the rights of the community members to water and sanitation by instituting new investments in wastewater and water infrastructure accompanied by the allocation of enough funds to carter for operation, maintenance and capital costs, enforceable regulations for household and community systems and criteria for tracking progress. Klasing (2016) suggests that if the Canadian government can increase its tax rate from 15 percent to 15.5 percent; it will be able to mobilize enough funds to fix the nation’s water system as indicated in Diagram 3 above.
Shoal Lake 40 First Nations community has suffered for decades due to lack of clean sources of drinking water. The water problem in the community has exposed the community to a risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases, skin infections, and other cancer-related diseases. Although drinking water advisories imposed by the Canadian government have worked to reduce the cases of diseases caused by drinking dirty water, the Government has not done much to formulate a lasting solution to the problem. Notably, Shoal Lake 40 has faced drinking water challenges for decades yet, their close neighbors living in Winnipeg can access clean drinking water. Research has uncovered that like other First Nations communities, the problem faced by Shoal Lake 40 community is primarily caused by discrimination and inequality in the application of law and facts. Therefore, it is prudent for the government to eliminate discrimination of First Nations communities and ensure that enough funds are allocated to operate and monitor water and wastewater systems and that appropriate policy are formulated to ensure that the community members can access safe water for drinking. Canadian Government is tasked with the responsibility of delivering services to its citizens including meeting their essential needs. As such, the government should adopt the possible solutions suggested in this report to avail clean water for drinking to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community members.

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