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World Water Week

People should not have to scavenge municipal dumps for food. Not anywhere in the world. But especially not in Canada where an abundance of natural resources and a decent standard of industrial development should mean that no Canadian citizen should go hungry. Ever.

Unfortunately, this happens.... Eyewitness reports say that the elderly and other socially excluded people regularly scavenge the dump in Rankin Inlet for food. When a local official spoke about this publicly, the response from Nunavut Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq was not shame, not the promise of an official enquiry, not even the promise of better social assistance. No, the Honourable Lady demanded an apology. And when another MP mentioned it in the House of Commons, Ms Aglukkaq, a Minister of the Crown, insisted that it wasn't true.

There is no reason to believe that the reports are not true and that vulnerable people in Nunavut are not scavenging where they can. Food security in the North is abysmal: even (!) the federal government admits that children regularly go at least one day without food. In Canada.... this is inexcusable. Groups of Canadians have joined together to offer assistance ("Helping Our Northern Neighbours" on Facebook and Feeding My Family)

As the cost of living has risen, and consequently the prices of resources the Inuit need to get "country food," or traditional fish and game, it has become more difficult for people in the North to feed themselves. Bullets and food for sled dogs costs money. The cycle of self-sufficiency has been broken and people risk starvation. When a case of water costs more than $83, and clean drinking water is not easily obtainable otherwise, there is a huge problem. Food and other supplies must be airlifted to Northern communities, and this costs money. And, more and more people in the North rely on social assistance to live: the gap between welfare and enough paid employment to support an individual or a family is huge. Housing, fuel, food, medications, all these things must be paid for from wages once someone goes off social assistance. It's hard enough to do this in the South, where prices are more reasonable. In the North, it's nearly impossible.

And even when those jobs are available, in Nunavut they tend to be in areas that require training and education, also sometimes in short supply. In 2010, the high school graduation rate in Nunavut was 39 per cent. This reflected education in English when much of the indigenous population speaks Inuktitut as a first language.

In addition to sub-standard housing and low employment rates, communities in the North also risk polluting the very environment they rely on for subsistence. Each of the 25 communities in Nunavut is expected to have a water licence, certifying that water treatment, sewage and waste disposal are up to standards. Each community is expected to have a Senior Administrative Officer (SAO) who bears personal responsibility (enforced with possible jail time or fines) for the facilities. That is the ideal; the reality falls short of that, partly because the funds just aren't available to maintain infrastructure. Some communities make do and mend, but this can mean they fall short of the expected standards.

The North is not a living museum or a theme park, it's a precious environment populated by proud Canadians who deserve far better. Don't ignore them, hoping that tourist dollars will "solve their problems." They won't....

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