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For over a decade, I've worked in humanitarian relief. I've witnessed global disasters and assisted with response, relief and sustainable solutions.

All humanitarian work should be rooted in a commitment to social justice, and I believe access to clean water is the most fundamental social justice issue, above and beyond challenges like extreme poverty, food scarcity, gender inequality and many others.

In 2022, the United Nations launched a #JusticeBeginsHere global campaign to promote access to clean water for all and calls on individuals and organizations from all walks of life to overcome structural disparities in water and sanitation.

Poverty alleviation is inextricably linked to access to clean drinking water because it enables communities to provide education and build economies and agriculture for trade and sustenance.

According to UNICEF, over 700 children under the age of five are dying daily from diseases linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. Many more children regularly miss school because they are too ill to attend, compounding levels of inequality in already disadvantaged communities.

Efforts of Canadian humanitarian organizations have had a profound effect on the lives of millions of people in need all over the world. Canadians have long been dedicated to promoting social justice through expanding people's access to safe drinking water.

Water pump installation by Human Concern International in Tharparkar, Pakistan. Photo courtesy of Human Concern International

I'm fortunate to be the executive director of Human Concern International (HCI), one of the many organizations providing long-term solutions to the world's water crisis. This year, HCI is working on projects in more than 10 countries, including the construction of water access technology such as tube wells or boreholes to extract fresh water used during times of water shortages or droughts, the repair of broken and damaged existing ones, the installation of solar-based desalination units, and the delivery of water tankers to rural communities.

One of six solar-based water desalination units (SDUs) installed by Human Concern International in partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and UNRWA USA. These units will provide clean water to more than 12,000 boys and girls studying in six different UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip. Photo courtesy of Human Concern International

Canada's water crisis

As part of #JusticeBeginsHere, HCI has launched its national Water for Life campaign to educate Muslim Canadians on the lack of access in Indigenous communities, writes Mahmuda Khan @HCICanada #JusticeBeginsHere #Water #cdnpoli #WaterFirst

However, international demands risk overshadowing the water crisis in our own backyard. Last year, parts of Canada, including British Columbia's Sunshine Coast and Ontario’s Oneida Nation of the Thames, experienced water shortages so severe that a state of emergency was declared, which was directly attributable to climate change.

The Sunshine Coast Regional District's general manager of infrastructure services, Remko Rosenboom, blames the region's drinking water crisis on climate change, citing longer and drier summers. Coun. Brandon Doxtator, who supervises community infrastructure in the Oneida Nation of the Thames, has noted that aging infrastructure, climate change, and extreme weather events are all contributing factors to decreasing water levels.

Many Canadians are unaware that many Indigenous communities are impacted most with a lack of access to safe drinking water, a fundamental social disparity that infringes on a basic human right.

Human Rights Watch found in 2016 that the Canadian government violated its international human rights obligations to First Nations people and communities by failing to address this severe water crisis.

The facts are as follows: As of October 2022, the federal government reported there are still 31 long-term drinking advisories on 27 reserve communities, with some in place for more than 25 years. According to Water First, as of July 2022, 111 First Nations communities across the country are affected by drinking water advisories.

What does this mean for Canadians? According to the Council of Canadians, a single drinking water advisory can result in up to 5,000 people being deprived of safe, clean drinking water.

Humanitarian organizations in Canada have a responsibility to respond to this need while holding our government accountable. Many Canadian relief organizations, such as HCI, with extensive experience in clean water solutions are looking to the government of Canada to collaborate and leverage this expertise here at home.

As part of #JusticeBeginsHere, HCI has launched its national Water for Life campaign to educate Muslim Canadians on the lack of access in Indigenous communities. HCI, in collaboration with Water First, is funding the Drinking Water Internship Program, which trains young Indigenous adults to become certified water treatment plant operators, a critical component of addressing Indigenous communities' drinking water challenges.

The Canadian government must recommit to eliminating the remaining long-term drinking water advisories on reserves and address the significant deficit in funding for the maintenance and operation of drinking water systems on reserves.

As we begin a new year, it is incomprehensible that some Canadians still lack access to safe drinking water. No one should be left behind.

Mahmuda Khan is the executive director of Human Concern International (HCI), the oldest Muslim international relief charity in Canada. Khan holds a degree in economics and has worked in the humanitarian sector for more than a decade, fighting for the most vulnerable around the world. The mother of two lives in Ottawa.

Keep reading

Watch Trudeau's year-end interview with Omar Sachedina on CTV. He said that there are project managers in place for the remaining communities with boil water advisories and work will continue, as it has been; he mentions how many have already been done.

The point is that it should never have been allowed to exist in the first place. Having Managers in place in communities where clean potable water has been absent for decades if not more, is not FIXING the problem.