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NEWS: 9/21 Manitoba First Nations with high-risk water receive some help

The Winnipeg Free Press reports, “Nine First Nations (in Manitoba) with the diciest drinking water will get upgrades to their treatment plants and pipes over the next four years… The move (by the federal government) follows a damning federal report released in July that assessed every water and sewage treatment system on Canadian reserves and found nearly 40 per cent of water plants were so troubled they posed a high risk to human health. …In Manitoba, 21 systems, some serving only a band office and some serving more than 3,500 people, were rated high-risk.”

“(Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) won’t say how much money each of the nine high-risk reserves will get over the next four years because it could compromise the integrity of the tendering process. …Bringing proper sanitation to every home and bringing every on-reserve water and sewage treatment plant up to standard will cost $690 million over the next decade for Manitoba alone, according to the national assessment report.”

APTN reported this summer that, “Ottawa needs to invest nearly $5 billion in First Nations water and sewage systems over the next 10 years ($500 million a year), according to two year-long study released by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan… The government commissioned study found that the federal government needed to immediately invest about $1.2 billion to raise reserve-based water and sewage systems to standards set by Aboriginal Affairs. …Of those with water service, the study found that 39 per cent of 807 reserve systems inspected (in other words, 314 reserves) were classified as posing a ‘high risk’, meaning they posed a threat to health and safety. …The study found 1,800 reserve homes have no water service and 1,777 homes have no sewage service at all.”

The Assembly of First Nations and the Council of Canadians have both supported the Alternative Federal Budget’s call for $1 billion to be spent this fiscal year to build, upgrade and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nation communities (as well as $1 billion in 2012-13 and 2013-14). In both the March 22 and June 6, the Harper government failed to provide the funding necessary to begin to meet the drinking water and sanitation needs of First Nations peoples. (By contrast, the Harper government has committed to spending almost $30 billion over the next thirty years for the purchase and maintenance of the controversial F-35 fighter planes, according to the parliamentary budget officer.)

The Toronto Star has reported, “Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians national chair who fought for the UN resolution (on the right to water), urged all First Nations to start using the resolution in their struggles to get the federal government to honour its commitment to provide clean water to aboriginal peoples.” Barlow said at the Assembly of First Nations Assembly annual meeting this past July that the United Nations recognition of the right to water and sanitation obligates Canada under international law to come up with a plan to fulfill that right in First Nations communities that continue to go without clean water and sanitation. Barlow said, “The federal government is in violation of this new international recognition.”

The Council of Canadians will repeat this demand in the 2012-13 Alternative Federal Budget to be released this coming February.