In an attempt to combat the rising tide of water-related deaths, Canada’s federal government has released a detailed study that shows more than 50 per cent of Canadians still live in homes with no drinking-waters system.
The latest findings, which were presented Monday at a water policy forum in Calgary, are a stark reminder of the dire health consequences of the crisis.
Health Canada says there are more than 1.4 million Canadians in emergency housing, with some 4 million without water systems and another 1.2 million in water-dependent situations.
More than three-quarters of Canadians in Canada have a water-associated illness, according to the survey released Monday.
That includes waterborne illnesses such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea and watery eyes, as well as respiratory illness.
Health Minister Jo-Ellen Darcy says it is a challenge to maintain a water system, which includes providing sanitation, treating wastewater and maintaining public health and safety.
But the data released Monday by Health Canada shows that many Canadians are not aware of the health consequences, and don’t necessarily understand the full scope of the problem.
Many don’t know the role of private corporations in the water system and have no idea what water-based health and wellness care is.
That can lead to poor water management and lead to chronic water-borne illnesses and chronic water and sanitation related issues, said Dr. Pauline Lautenschlager, chief medical officer for the Canadian Association of Chief Medical Officers.
“This report is important, but it is not enough,” Dr. Lautinschlagersaid.
“It is a starting point to start to educate the public about the risks associated with this problem, the need for more funding and more attention.”
As a result, Health Canada has set up a joint working group on water-health to investigate and work together to develop a national strategy to address the crisis and its impact on Canadians.
Dr. Darcy said she is excited by the work the group is doing to bring together all stakeholders, including health and civil society.
“We are committed to working with our industry partners to develop and implement an action plan to improve water quality in the public health system, to reduce water-insecure and vulnerable populations, to improve public water safety, and to improve the health of Canadians,” she said.
“What is so important is to ensure that Canadians can have a safe, clean and safe drinking-pool and water system that meets the needs of Canadians.”
Health Canada is working with industry and other partners to establish a national water quality plan and a national public water monitoring program, the minister said.
Health is also working to increase public awareness of water and water related illnesses and improve water-care access in all areas of society.
Health officials say the current water crisis is costing Canada about $3.4 billion.