Piped water is something many of us take for granted. Simply turn on the tap and a seemingly endless supply of clean drinking water flows out. The people of Black Tickle, Labrador don’t enjoy this luxury and Dr. Maura Hanrahan has seen first-hand the negative effects this has on the community.
The village of Black Tickle is located on Island of Ponds off the south coast of Labrador. Dr. Hanrahan lived there through the winter and spring of 2005. Not having running water had a major impact on her.
“It stayed with me,” she said. “To this day I cannot waste water. It still shocks me that people have to live without piped water in 21st-century Canada and that the vast majority of these people are Indigenous, like the people in Black Tickle.”
Black Tickle does not meet the World Health Organization guidelines for access to water. A Potable Water Dispensing Unit (PWDU) was installed in Black Tickle, but it costs approximately $30,000 a year to operate the system. Securing consistent government funding is a big challenge. When the PWDU budget is exhausted, the community is forced to rely on shallow community wells with untreated and unmonitored water.
The impacts of water insecurity run deep in Black Tickle. It is expensive to access water, which in turn affects food security and the ability to heat homes in the frigid Labrador winter. There are also health impacts, especially on mental health.
“The physical issues are more obvious but I am very struck by the apparent links between water insecurity and mental health,” said Dr. Hanrahan. “Water insecurity is a major consistent stressor for people in Black Tickle. They are always faced with the threat of running out of water. The water situation interrupts people’s relationship with the natural environment which is so important to the Southern Inuit. So it is also causing cultural damage.”
Dr. Hanrahan continues to visit Black Tickle; through her research she has defined the problems of water access and water quality. She has presented on her research in St. John’s, Norway, and Britain. Her team has produced several technical reports, a book contribution and an article in a peer-reviewed journal with others submitted. She has been working with engineers to identify a small-scale workable solution and to develop engineering drawings. And she also hopes to find strategies to reduce widespread disparities between water infrastructure in Indigenous communities and in other Canadian communities.