The Right to Water
By Phoenix Winter
The DTES Neighbourhood House states in its Spring Zine that “Our Right to Food includes our Human Right for fresh, clean and publicly accessible water.” Canada has been reluctant to entrench our right to water as a human right. On September 23, 2011, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that made safe drinking water and sanitation a human right. The Council of Canadians has called on the federal government to “carry out their international legal obligations…by committing over $9 billion to critical water services.”
Access to safe drinking water is important in our neighbourhood. The word on the street is that some SROs have contaminated water. Sue Duggan, former Aboriginal Chair of the HIV/IDU Consumer Board, says this is “because of lead pipes that haven’t been changed.” Ivan Drury, who lives in Strathcona, says “I have to let the water run for 5 minutes or the water comes out brown.” Additionally, some people don’t have taps in their room and rely on communal water.
The fountain at Oppenheimer Park has been important for people. Unfortunately, it doesn’t operate over the winter months, and in the summertime can run quite hot. Some people are reluctant to use it. The birds sometimes poop on it, and sometimes people have said it has been cloudy. But Sandy MacKeigan, Community Programmer at the Park, says that there was a complaint when the fountain was first turned on, but the Parks Board came and flushed it out and there have been no complaints since then. She says people can just ask for water, and staff will give them some. It’s unfortunate, but the styrofoam cups that are used cost the Park scarce money, and they are not good for the environment, but at least people get to drink.
After the heat wave a couple of years ago, the City installed a couple of public fountains. One was at the corner of Gore and Hastings, including a drinking fountain for dogs. That is something that would be useful at Oppenheimer Park, where there are several dogs that hang around with their people. There is also a “Drinking Water Station” at the side of Oppenheimer Lodge on Cordova near Jackson.
For people with compromised immune systems, most Vancouver water comes with a parasite that is not good for people with HIV/AIDS, says Duggan. At the HIV/IDU Consumer Board at 105-177 E. Hastings, they offer clients, hotel residents and staff access to a water machine. The government used to pay for bottled water as part of a monthly nutritional supplement, but that was cut some time ago. Before 2006, Duggan says, “There were a lot of things available to people with Hep C or HIV. Now, they’re cut back so far, I haven’t a clue as to what’s available any more.” What is available keeps changing so quickly. In one recent year, policy changed twice in less than 6 months, she adds.
Our need for water is often taken for granted, and the UN Water’s website states that we need 2-4 litres of drinking water per day. They say that “We must manage freshwater sustainability so that everyone has enough water to drink and stay clean and healthy; food producers have enough water to satisfy the demands of growing populations…and countries have opportunities to secure a reliable supply of energy.” There are so many pressures on water supplies, such as pollution, deforestation, and growing population.
We need to honour our water and all it does for us, and continue to take steps to ensure that Canada acknowledges water as a human right, especially for those in the DTES.