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Nunavut state of emergency amid water shortage, infrastructure woes

A water shortage in Nunavut has prompted the region’s territorial government to declare a state of emergency, leading experts to re-evaluate water infrastructure in areas they say lack necessary funding.

“Families are frustrated. Businesses are frustrated,” MP Lori Idlout told CTV News Channel. “Water is such an essential human right.”

Iqaluit, which reported a water shortage last week, is now working on getting regulatory approval to pump in water from a nearby lake.

Joanna Quassa, Nunavut’s acting minister of community and government services, said in a statement Friday that the federal government is “committed to working with the City of Iqaluit to ensure water levels will meet the needs of the residents of Iqaluit through the upcoming winter.”

Researchers assessing the ripple effects of water scarcity have declared an urgency for the federal government to effectively respond to shortages with required investments.

“It is a human right to have access to [water],” sustainability researcher Kaylia Little told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

“Not having access to enough water for an entire city, not only any city but the capital of the territory, is going to have widespread effects on the whole region.”

Little conducted research for the Arctic Institute on the Iqaluit water crisis – particularly focusing on on how water shortages relate to Arctic infrastructure.

“What we know is that the investments [towards water infrastructure] that have been made historically in the region have been vastly below those in the south,” she said.

“Due to the unique nature of the climate and the need to ship in materials, you actually need to double or triple the cost of building in the south. Instead of doing that we’ve been investing less and therefore the infrastructure is aging.”

Climate change, she said, is also going to have an increased impact on the stability of the existing water infrastructure. And she pointed to complications with rebuilding that existing infrastructure.

“Unfortunately the weather and the sea ice do have a huge impact on the building season,” she said. “Those things are outside of anyone’s control. But keeping that in mind and building up ahead of time so this winter while we can’t build, we can make those plans for next summer and really make some big improvements.”

Little said it’s the second time in about nine months that Iqaluit has had a water crisis, and said if the same situation happened in another capital “we would be talking about this more and seeing faster investments being made.”

“We have to remember that this is part of Canada, and we need to make those same investments that we’re making in places like Ontario and B.C. and make them in the north,” Little said.

“And make sure these communities have exactly what they need to live good lives.” 

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