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NEWS: Harper to end funding for global water quality monitoring program

Mike De Souza of Postmedia News reports, “A prominent international centre in Ontario in charge of global water quality monitoring was previously protected from cuts by former environment minister Jim Prentice, but it’s now among the victims of the latest federal budget. …The Global Environmental Monitoring System water quality database (is) a United Nations Environment Program project managed by Canada since the 1970s. …Canada has managed the international database since the 1970s but will save $851,000 per year by 2014-15 by ending its funding and asking another country to take over.”

The news article adds, “‘As Canada has done this for nearly 40 years, it is time for another country to take on this responsibility of managing this global water quality database of voluntary-submitted data,’ (Environment Minister Peter Kent’s spokesman Adam) Sweet said, explaining that Canada was giving the United Nations three years of notice about the decision. ‘While Canada fully intends to continue to participate in the science aspects of GEMS, we believe that it is time that UNEP identify a dedicated source of funding or that another country carry out this activity.’ Sweet said other countries had the capability to host the database, including Germany, Japan, the U.S., Brazil and South Africa.”

In November 2008, the Canadian Press reported, “Canadian Maude Barlow learned of (an) impending water-program pullout less than a month into her appointment as the UN’s first adviser on water issues. ‘That Canada would remove this support from this program is just outrageous and an embarrassment,’ she said. ‘It’s yet another example…that the Harper government is parochial, that it sees its environment commitments really in terms of optics. I have people say to me around the world: whatever happened to your country? We used to be able to count on Canada to take stands. And now Canada is in some cases worse than the United States – just absolutely refusing to partake and participate in international programs.'”

In March 2009, the Canadian Press reported, “Critics say the Harper government’s plan to spend $500,000 a year for a global water program is an insulting drop in the bucket. Ottawa has promised $2.5 million over five years for the United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System. The Canada-led program tracks water quality at 2,700 monitoring stations around the world. But Sabrina Barker, the program’s senior adviser, says $500,000 a year is barely enough to keep the database going. Barker and Maude Barlow, the UN’s water issues adviser, say at least $2 million a year is needed to assess how freshwater is disappearing. Barlow says three billion people around the world have no access to running water within a kilometre of their homes – and the number is growing fast.”

In July 2009, Barlow and Professor David Schindler wrote in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, “For 30 years Canada has hosted the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS), assessing more than 3,000 freshwater sites around the world and supplying 24 UN agencies with vital information upon which to build and assess water policy. GEMS is the dominant global system to monitor water quality and has been built with Canadian expertise and technology. But in recent years, successive federal governments have starved the program so much that GEMS director Edwin Ongley quit the program in 1998, citing the ‘abysmally naïve understanding by Environment Canada of emerging global water issues.’”

Barlow and Schindler added, “In early 2008, senior Environment Canada officials told GEMS scientists that the program would no longer be funded in Canada. After a public outcry, Environment Minister Jim Prentice contradicted his officials and said the program would remain after all; but the funding allocated is only $500,000 a year — half the already diminished previous budget and nowhere near enough to keep the program going. As a result, GEMS scientists were not able to continue their contribution to the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership Indicators report, an important initiative to track and recommend on invasive species and loss of biodiversity. Nor could they contribute global indicators to the recently released UN World Water Development Report, arguably the most comprehensive compilation on the world water crisis ever written.”

Barlow and Schindler concluded, “Ottawa’s lack of support for this internationally renowned program is embarrassing. The world is experiencing a growing water crisis that poses one of the greatest ecological and human threats of our time. The Canadian government must get its act together now.”