Water Insecurity in Indigenous Canada: A Case Study of Illness, Neglect, and Urgency
Water insecurity in Northern Indigenous communities in Canada is pervasive and complex with multiple dimensions and impacts. Yet the relevant literature is sparse, especially for Labrador. Our case study aimed to understand the multiple dimensions, health risks, and coping strategies of long-term water insecurity in the Southern Inuit island community of Black Tickle-Domino, Labrador, where there is no household running water system and people rely on an under-funded potable drinking water unit (PDWU) and unmonitored shared shallow wells. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, our exploratory work included research on water quality, access, contamination, uses, preferences, and cultural interpretations. In Black Tickle water security was chronically and severely compromised and the community did not meet the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for safe drinking water. Some water samples had contaminants and there were past records of outbreaks of water-borne illnesses. Water insecurity was linked to poverty, food insecurity, men’s health, and mental health and poses major health risks. There is an urgent need for a sustainable strategy to improve water quality and quantity in these communities, such as that outlined by WHO in 2005. Yet these communities lack the economic and political means to implement such strategies. Our materialist approach and ongoing commitment to this work has led to early-stage work with engineers and the community to identify possible solutions.