Posts Tagged ‘water’

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

The Myth of Abundance.

Friday, May 14th, 2010

The Myth of Abundance: Why Canada Doesn’t Have As Much Water As It Thinks

Dr. Romila Verma is a Research Associate with the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy ( and teaches Water Resource Management in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto.

People rarely associate Canada with water shortages. And why would they? Our country is fortunate to have much of the earth’s freshwater in the form of numerous lakes, rivers, glaciers and groundwater.  But is it time for a reality check? The water supply for the city of Toronto, drawn from the seemingly vast Lake Ontario, is hardly typical of the water situation across Canada. For example, when one considers the imminent water shortages faced by smaller communities in Southern Alberta, it becomes clear that there may be broader challenges on the horizon for Canada.

A recent study conducted for the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy analyzed the impact of daily rainfall and temperature on daily water demand in Toronto between the months of May and August.  The study found that regardless of changes in temperature and precipitation, daily water consumption never fell below 500 megalitres.  However, for every degree the temperature increased, an additional 13.79 megalitres of water were consumed every day.

Considered alongside rapid population growth and urbanization, aging infrastructure, and now climate change, this finding highlights the potential for substantial pressure on municipal water supplies in years to come.  While extensive research has been conducted on water pollution, wastewater treatment and aging infrastructure, less has been done to determine the impact of climate change on urban water availability and demand.  This is especially concerning given that an ever growing percentage of the Canadian population now live in urban areas.

Back in 1989, John E. Lewis authored an article for the Canadian Water Resources Association that examined the potential impacts of climate change on Canada’s water supply.  Lewis predicted that rising temperatures would lead to increased water loss via evaporation and transpiration.  The small projected increase in rainfall expected under some climate change models is unlikely to compensate for this water loss.   In Southern Ontario, there is evidence that Lewis’ predictions may be coming true, considering that summer lawn watering restrictions are now a fact of life here.  In Southern Alberta, there is already little doubt that municipal water supplies are shrinking. Share the Water, A 2009 report published by Ecojustice and WaterMatters, notes that some communities in the region may face substantial water shortages within a decade or less.

We need to begin thinking seriously about developing a comprehensive national water policy and governance model, while at the same time committing new funds toward enhancing public awareness, spearheading conservation initiatives and integrating water education into our schools. Most importantly, Canadians need to realize that while our water is envied by much of the world, it is ultimately a finite resource. Both professional management and a personal commitment to conservation will be necessary for it to last us into the future.