Friday, May 11, 2007

A Better Communications Strategy? No, We Need Safe Drinking Water

Message about bad water on reserves not getting through: study

Health Canada says it plans to revamp its communication strategy about drinking water in aboriginal communities after finding out that its warning ads are not working.

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement said Thursday a study has found that its ads, which come in the form of signs and posters, are not clear or effective.

"You live and learn in these things," Clement said in Ottawa.

"This was a situation where something was tried, it was found to be wanting so we are going to fix it and make sure it's more effective in the future."

A total of 89 First Nations communities in Canada were under a drinking water advisory as of May 4. Among other things, Health Canada was trying to warn people in these communities not to drink their tap water.

Clement said Health Canada will take a more personal approach by using new radio ads and going door-to-door to educate people in aboriginal communities about their tap water this fall.

Considering some of these communities have been without safe drinking water for years and years, perhaps the problem isn't the signage.

One sign posted on a reserve by Health Canada reads: "Do Not Consume Advisory."

According to the study, residents did not know if the sign referred to their tap water or if the advisory was just a suggestion.

The study also found that posters used by Health Canada were confusing.

Chief David General of Six Nations in Ontario said he is aware that people in his community drink their tap water even though it is not safe and that some people get sick as a result.

General said many people do not even notice the signs that warn them not to drink tap water.

'More eye-catching'

"It has to be more than just the static sign that just everybody walks by. It's got to be something that is more eye-catching."

Health Canada says a drinking water advisory is a way to advise members of the public in a specific community that they should use an alternative source of drinking water.

It says it is a measure designed to protect public health from waterborne contaminants that could be present in drinking water.

In March 2006, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice launched a plan of action to address drinking water problems in First Nation communities.

General said many aboriginal communities would rather have a new water plant instead of a new communications strategy.

Is it just me, or is this article rather patronizing?

If one were to read this article without any background, one would think the problem is the fault of the aboriginals themselves, as if they aren't smart enough to understand not to drink their tap water. They don't mention that many people drink their water because they can't afford bottled water, or because they sometimes have to walk for miles to get clean water.

The problem isn't the communications strategy (although I must admit that was pretty crappy - apparently one of the signs had a calm scene of a mother bathing her baby - gee I wonder why the water appears safe!).

As of May 4, 2007, there were 89 First Nations communities across Canada under a Drinking Water Advisory, and many more are considered "at risk". Many are so contaminated with things like arsenic, so boiling doesn't make it safe. Residents of these communities often get skin rashes from bathing in the water.

(Additional details)

It's criminal this this wealthy nation isn't supplying safe water to its most marginalized communities.

That is one of the many reasons why our First Nations communities experience living conditions equal to those ranking 63rd in the world - in other words they live in Third World conditions. It contributes to the low life expectancy of aboriginals (consistently around 5-7 years less than the rest of the Canadian population).


Scott said...

Yikes, what a wretched article. It is kind of stupefying to think about the degree of doctrinal internalization required to make it completely unremarkable to a mainstream journalist and mainstream readers that this article doesn't pay any attention to the question of why the water is contaminated in the first place. Other than the last paragraph citing Chief General, of course, which most readers won't get to, and which implicitly devalues the question by making it the concern of a "biased" party rather than putting it in the journalist's voice.

I mean, isn't that the first question any decent human being would ask -- why is this happening and why hasn't it been fixed?

Renegade Eye said...

It obviously is not a problem of signs, not being flashy enough.

I linked to your blog.

eugene plawiuk said...

Perhaps instead of writing it in English they should have posted the signs in the appropriate native languages. Duh' Oh. Of course that is not the point, either, its to create clean water to drink. I linked to your article as well.

TomCat said...

The notion that they would say the solution is better signs is absurd. The solution is to provide the safe water.

Peter Dodson said...

Hmmm, interesting logic. I guess you're just feeling guilty about something :)

I guess sometimes when in government it makes more sense to look like you are doing something about the problem rather than actually doing something about it. Weird.

stageleft said...

It's typical government "we're getting the job done" rhetoric - and for the majority of head in the sand, our government cares, sheeple, Canadians that's enough.

Red Jenny said...

I was simply appalled when I heard this story on CBC in the morning. As soon as the print version was out I had to say something. What a shoddy piece of journalism - consider the set of assumptions that are underlying the article.

And of course, there's a remarkable absence of aboriginal voices. Where's the voice of the grandma who has a terrible skin rash, or the mother of the kid with a nasty stomach bug, or in fact anyone else actually affected by this. I guarantee they wouldn't dismiss it all with: "You live and learn in these things"

We should probably write CBC directly.

Makes me so mad!!