Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Clean Water and Sanitation a Human Right: Even in Canada

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Clean Water and Sanitation a Human Right: Even in Canada

In late July 2010 the UN’s general assembly voted in favor of the resolution that recognizes access to clean water and sanitization as a human right. This vote addressed the need for water issues to become the responsibility of governing states and the international community. 122 member states voted in favour of the resolution, with none opposing and 41 abstaining to vote. The representative from Canada was one of the 41 abstainers.

Human rights advocates see the passing of this resolution as a ‘historic’ decision towards improving the lives of many who are without adequate clean water and sanitization. Among those applauding this decision by the general assembly is Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. She sees this vote as a ‘step forward in the struggle for a just world’. The resolution calls on states and financial organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity, and transfer technology in order to facilitate clean drinking water access.

Despite their abstention from the vote the Canadian government will be expected to recognize this resolution as it moves closer to becoming a binding agreement. Canada has largely acknowledged water as a commercial good, with moves both domestically and internationally to privatize its use. This market-based approach to water distribution may need to be re-thought as the nations representing the majority of the Earth’s population (5.4 B people) voted in favour of water becoming a Universal Human Right. This means the onus will be placed on the national governments and international community to facilitate and maintain the access to clean water and sanitation.

The issues of clean water and sanitation do not only affect developing nations. At home, this resolution should help facilitate the improvement of water quality in many First Nation communities. Currently 80 First Nation communities are under ‘boil-water advisories’ as source water is contaminated and access to proper sanitation is not available. Many of these communities have been without adequate water supplies for upwards of 10 years. Barlow is now urging First Nations communities to start using this resolution to get the federal government to honour its international commitment domestically.

For a nation as water-rich as Canada it is shocking to see so many communities without adequate water access. As this human rights issue gains international attention it is important that Canadians address their domestic water issues quickly and effectively.

As CIELAP looks to a sustainable future it is important to understand the social and economic issues that face us, as they are inextricably linked to environmental degradation. CIELAP is currently working on a project to educate Southern Ontario communities about source water protection. Water quality and quantity issues still exist in Canada. This UN resolution should direct more attention towards Canadians who do not have adequate drinking water. As a developed nation with abundant supplies of fresh water Canada should become a leader, not a laggard, in helping facilitate the access of clean water for all people.

Josh Wise – CIELAP Intern

Should we drill in the Arctic?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Delay Arctic Drilling Hearings, Energy Board Urged

CBC, 4 May 2010

Melting Ice Feeds Warming Trend: Report

Montreal Gazette, 29 April 2010

According to an April 29 report published in the journal Nature, as more sea ice melts, more heat is released into the atmosphere, and climate warming is exacerbated. Alarmingly, arctic temperature increases in the last decade have been twice as high as the global average. The large amounts of thin ice covering the artic this year will likely melt quickly, leading to a large thaw. Additionally, a general trend of decreasing winter sea ice has been observed. This will dramatically impact arctic ecosystems, and threaten the lifestyles of those living in the region.

The fragility of the arctic ecosystem is underscored by oil extraction activity in the region. The recent explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico highlights the potentially doubly negative impact of arctic oil extraction. Not only are greenhouse gases emitted via the extraction and use of fossil fuels, but the technology used to extract these fuels may have catastrophic environmental impacts in the event of a malfunction. The National Energy Board is currently holding hearings on Beaufort Sea drilling. Despite being asked by oil companies to postpone these hearings, the long term result of the hearings may result in a policy that addresses the long-term safety and management of arctic drilling. Many environmental groups have argued that drilling in the arctic should not take place until sound policy regulating it has been implemented.

CIELAP has a strong interest in arctic environmental issues, and has partnered with the National Film Board to hold screenings of films related to arctic issues, among other topics. These films include Arctic Circle, This Land, The Great Adventure, Being Caribou, and Weather Report. The firms depict the unique vulnerability of the artic, and the environmental and social impacts of climate change in the region, and globally. They also present an imperative for policy that addresses the causes and impacts of arctic climate change.

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Information about past and upcoming CIELAP events:

“E-Waste and the Olympics”

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Winter Olympic Medals Made From Recycled E-Waste

Scientific American

February 12, 2010

For the first time, Olympic medals for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games contain components of recycled electronic waste. Manufactured by Teck Resources of Vancouver, the medals contain up to 1.5 per cent metals sourced from computer parts, circuit boards, and other electronics. While the medals are still almost completely made of materials from mined mineral deposits, the inclusion of e-waste symbolizes a shift towards not only recycling electronic products, but also the incorporation of this recycling and reuse into important social and cultural applications, thus reducing the environmental impact of this waste.

This is crucial, as increasing use of personal technology and other electronics generates increasing amounts of waste, which poses a significant environmental and human health challenge when disposed of in landfills, as is done throughout the developing world. When toxic components of e-waste, such as lead and cadmium, are not removed prior to disposal, they leach into the soil and eventually contaminate groundwater. In some cases, such as that of an e-waste processing facility in Guiyu, China, groundwater may become so contaminated that authorities will have to ship drinking water from other locations, dozens of kilometers away. Additionally, workers processing e-waste are exposed to toxins though inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption, and these toxins may be carried home on their clothing and skin, thus contaminating children and other family members.

Despite the grave and well documented environmental and human health impacts, the global trade of e-waste continues. Where e-waste disposal regulations are strict in developed countries, recyclers may chose to simply export the waste rather than paying the high costs of recycling it domestically. Additionally, the e-waste industry continues to be a significant employer in developing countries, with up to 25,000 people employed in this sector in Delhi alone. Even though the 1000 Olympic and Paralympic medals do not significantly reduce the amount of e-waste entering Canadian and international landfills, they do illustrate progress, and may generate discussion and awareness of the issue.  This in turn could lead to greater domestic reuse and safer disposal of electronic materials, as well as eventual strengthening of e-waste policy.

CIELAP has previously researched the topic of e-waste recycling and the trade in waste electrical and electronic equipment. In our July 2009 Discussion Paper on the Sustainable International Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, we identified shortcomings of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and noted how industrialized countries take advantage of a loophole that permits trade in e-waste for the purpose of reuse. The report also discussed the ongoing illicit transporting and dumping of hazardous wastes, and the environmental and human health effects of this practice. Finally, CIELAP presented recommendations for extended producer responsibility in managing waste electrical and electronic equipment.

- N. Antonowicz, CIELAP Intern

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