In the beginning of this course, we studied communities in the Canadian arctic and how they are affected by climate change. I was still curious about the different ways climate affected Canadians who live in the far north, so I decided to find out a little bit more how climate change might affect their health.
We know that the impacts of climate change reach far and wide, and affect different areas of the world in different ways; in some places the effects are hardly noticed at all, where others the impacts have been devastating and recurring for years. The Inuit communities in Northern Canada, for example, have been experiencing drastic changes for a long time. An example of such an impact is the increase in cases of illness by waterborne diseases in many communities.
In the Artic, the effects of climate change are felt first and most strongly, due to their location and the dependency of those who live there on the environment around them. Climate change in the north has triggered heavier rainfall and faster snowmelt, and because of this, more and more people are being infected by pathogens that are being washed into streams and groundwater people drink from. Because there aren’t many good sources of treated water, people tend to drink from brooks and other open, untreated water sources (especially when they go fishing or hunting).
Studies are looking at how extreme weather events affect waterborne disease outbreaks in aboriginal communities around the world. Sherilee Harper of the University of Guelph, along with a team of scientists, conducted a study to try to assess the correlation between weather patterns and illnesses due to waterborne pathogens. They documented local weather patterns, conducted weekly water tests, and searched clinical records for reports of vomiting and diarrhoea. Their research found that two to four weeks after periods of heavy rainfall, there was an increase in diarrhoea and vomiting. Their conclusion was that with an increase in snowmelt and rainfall comes an increase in bacteria in their water system; more people become infected by these bacteria and get sick.
I think the cases of how health in the North is being affected by climate change should ring as a warning bell for the rest of us. Canadians who live in the Arctic feel the effects of climate change first and more because they are more vulnerable than us to the south, not because we are immune to its effects. If it’s happening in the North, it can happen in southern Ontario as well!