Food insecurity and Facebook

Things that usually clutter facebook newsfeeds: cat videos, instagram pics and party invitations. And increasingly, at least in Nunavut’s capital city, caribou carcasses.

In a startling shift away from the long-rooted Inuit custom of sharing food among families, a growing number of opportunistic northerners are instead using facebook to sell their traditional food.

 Iqaluit Sell/Swap, an open group on the popular social networking site, serves primarily as a convenient place to auction off old children’s clothes or fix-er-up cars. But lately, some members have been offering up bounty from their latest hunting trip such as caribou or arctic char – for a price.

 It’s an avarice born of desperation.

 Warmer winters have led to unpredictable and dangerous ice conditions, taking their toll on traditional hunting. For Inuit who don’t have the money to supplement the shortages with store-bought food this means long months of never-full stomachs and mental stress.
The winter of 2010/2011 was particularly hard. McGill graduate student Sara Statham, 24, wanted to find out how vulnerable the climatic changes (freeze-up came about two months later than average) would leave the impoverished neighbourhoods in Iqaluit. At the International Polar Year conference in Montreal this week, Statham presented her findings.

In addition to the strained sharing networks – which is the Inuit’s traditional way of dealing with food shortages – she discovered that 54 percent of publicly-owned households did not have enough money to buy store food and could not get country food. Previously, only 46 percent of households had reported the same.

“One week… we had no food. We only had one dried noodle pack for 4 people. We can’t live like that,” Statham recalls the mother of one young Inuit family telling her. However, Statham said she found that while environmental changes had some impact on the vulnerability of Iqaluit’s poor, there were larger socio-economic issues that were affecting food insecurity.
Food and water insecurity have been highlighted at the conference as one of the major issues facing northern communities.
Previously published on Canadian Geographic’s blog; April 27, 2012

Researchers monitoring salt water in wells

Sea water is gradually seeping into the drinking water wells along the Northumberland Strait, a University of New Brunswick researcher says.

While no one’s gotten sick yet the future looks grim, Kerry MacQuarrie said.

Climate change experts warn of rising sea levels, which have the unfortunate side effect of leaving groundwater sources ruined by salt water intrusion.

MacQuarrie is looking specifically at the coastal community of Richibucto, where the water has a history of being too salty. The two-year project is part of the Atlantic Regional Adaptation Collaborative, which is a branch of a larger federal climate change planning initiative.

“We would say that the issue is definitely there in Richibucto now,” said Robert Hughes, an adaptation co-ordinator at the Department of Environment. Hughes manages the province’s various climate change adaptation programs, which includes MacQuarrie’s salt water intrusion project.

While Richibucto’s water is currently well within the Canadian drinking water standards, studying the case could illuminate possible future problems and solutions, MacQuarrie said. When the water does eventually become too salty, Richibucto could serve as the model for other communities’ action plans.

About a decade ago, Richibucto was forced to abandon a well and drill a replacement in a new location when the salt water intrusion became a real issue. It resolved the problem, but the town’s seaside location still puts it at risk.

While salt is essential to a healthy diet, too much can be dangerous. Sodium and chloride occur naturally in groundwater, but high levels can turn the water corrosive and damage household plumbing, not to mention cause a salty taste.

“You can’t drink seawater, as everyone knows,” Hughes said.

But rising oceans aren’t the only cause. Higher demand for water means excessive pumping and the groundwater doesn’t have time to replenish with fresh rain or snowmelt. With nothing to stand in its way, the lower, denser salt water is suctioned into the well’s reserves.

“The concern is that if salt water really gets into those aquifers, it’s pretty much there. It doesn’t go away again. That groundwater area is no longer useful,” Hughes said.

MacQuarrie is measuring sodium and chloride levels in Richibucto’s wells with his project partner Karl Butler, a geophysicist at UNB.

Working with two of the university’s master’s students, they shoot electric currents about the power of a car battery through the water. Electricity passes through salt water more easily than fresh water, so the measured conductivity indicates daily levels. The technique is well-established and causes no harm to humans or the water, MacQuarrie said.

With their data in hand, MacQuarrie and Butler then create 3D worlds on their computer screens in which they control a well’s hypothetical pumping rate or possible sea-level rise, among other variables, and see the effect. They also assess where the salt water is beneath the surface. Combined, the findings could be the basis for an action plan.

The project ends around next March or April, MacQuarrie said.

Previously published July 20, 2011; Telegraph-Journal

Coastal communities fighting back against effects of global warming

coastal erosion; Telegraph-Journal archive

Communities along the Acadian Peninsula are slowly washing away.

The more frequent storm surges have caused problems with erosion all along the New Brunswick coast. Now a three-year plan has been put into action to help combat the effects of global warming.

The small New Brunswick towns of Bas-Caraquet, Le Goulet and Shippagan all sit on the northern shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Each has suffered property damage from intense flooding and shoreline erosion.

But a plan is in the works to save the little villages from drowning.

Sabine Dietz is the provincial co-ordinator of the New Brunswick Regional Adaptation Collaborative. She’s working on a project that is part of a three-year, $30-million cost-sharing federal program geared towards preparing communities for change brought on by global warming.

The Acadian Peninsula project, which began in 2009, aims to assess high-risk areas, map out future erosion and sea level rise, and give the communities the information needed to make smart future zoning decisions.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources, the Université de Moncton (Moncton and Shippagan campuses) and the coastal zone research institute Inc. in Shippagan are working together on the project.

This is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, Dietz said. The idea is to focus on places that are already experiencing issues and find solutions that can be shared.

“They feel like they’re getting very little help,” she said, “but they’re not the only ones.”

Le Goulet, a small fishing community with a population of 950, is low-lying and relatively flat. These two features make it particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, and flooding from storm surges have become more frequent over the years.

For example, in the last 15 years, four major floods resulting from coastal storm surges have affected up to 30 homes in the village. The big concerns are drinking water contamination by the salt water, overflowing septic tanks, and flooded roads. Many people are still dealing with contaminated drinking water and mould issues, the report stated.

Le Goulet plans to adapt in three main ways: relocate homes and roads away from potential flooding, erect houses on pilings to accommodate rising sea levels, and build sea walls, dikes, beach nourishment and wetland restoration.

Jean-Marie Gionet, the deputy mayor for Bas-Caraquet, said things aren’t looking good. In his community, the issue at hand is mostly erosion. Cracking winter ice is leading to higher tides earlier in the season, and time is running out, he said.

Some people have lost 20 feet off their land, he said.

“The ocean just took it away,” Gionet said. “You can’t fight against Mother Nature.”

The hope, Dietz said, is that once they find an approach that works in these specific communities, it can be transferred to other communities throughout Atlantic Canada in similar geographic situations.

Previously published July 11, 2011; Telegraph-Journal, Vancouver Sun