Part 3: Sustainability Issues in Planetary Health

11 Water Security and Climate Change

Authors: Hilda Swirsky


Learning Objectives

At the end of this section the student should be able to:

  • Determine how climate change is impacting water security in Canada
  • Determine the components of water security
  • Determine how water security is impacting the health of our communities including equal accessibility to income and food security
  • Identify those populations who are most at risk in the communities and most vulnerable to water insecurity

Key Words

The important keywords for this chapter are:

  • Water Security, climate justice, traditional knowledge, UN SDG-6 (UN Sustainable Development Goals)

Image file from– Photo credit: UN Photo/Marie Frechon.

What is water security?

As noted by the United Nations – Sustainable Development Goals, Goal #6 suggests that achieving water security “is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030″. Water security is an essential element for all ecosystems. Without it, individuals cannot maintain well-being and communities cannot remain healthy.

Achieving and s impacts the physical, psychological, economical, spiritual, religious, and cultural traditions affecting our overall well-being, productivity and food security.
On March 22, 2013, UN world-wide experts, on the UN Water Task Force, developed and defined water security as” The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.” Going beyond this definition is the beneficial impact of water security on the spiritual and cultural components of our health and well-being and for the Indigenous populations, they believe that water is sacred. (Khayat & Diego 2021).
The Jewish population identifies water as a fountain of blessings and life.

Impacts on water security

Groundwater resources represent more than 90% of fresh water and up to 40% of drinking water. (United Nations 2006).

One of the Sustainability Development Goals, the UN is striving to achieve by 2030 is Sustainability Goal #6, the goal of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. This goal of having universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for everyone is especially critical and essential when the impacts of climate change include the unpredictability of changing precipitation patterns including seasonal redistribution and changing times, duration and properties of precipitation and reduced snow cover and rapid loss of glaciers melting, increasing risks of floods and drought and changes to the availability of fresh water and the health of our oceans. (Martin & Volt, 2019) Canada’s rate of climate warming is among the highest in the world resulting in rising sea levels, rapid warmth of water temperatures in cold regions and therefore unpredictable guides to reliable water availability and unreliability of warming water temperatures, decreasing or increasing rainfalls and extreme weather events such as sudden, severe storms, flooding, drought and mudslides, freezing rain and ice storms and therefore adapting and mitigation will impact whether or not we meet Sustainable Goal #6.( Martin & Void, 2019, Schuster-Wallace, Sandford, Merrill, 2019, Berry et al, 2014).
Climate change challenges to water security:
There could be decreased access to available food as oceans become more acidic impacting shellfish and their ability to build shells which will also threaten vast fisheries. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Video). As we see already, this can result in increasing food costs as food security is impacted. (Marshman, Blay-Palmer & Landman (2019).
Recently, Hurricane Fiona has been a devastating example of the threat to coastal communities becoming a reality when it arrived in the Maritimes on September 23d and 24th 2022, This is only one incident of the destruction and damage that could more frequently take place because of climate change. Parts of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were all affected after it had travelled from Puerto Rico. Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and Port Aux Basques in Newfoundland were hit the hardest. As of October 20, the Canadian Red Cross has provided emergency shelter to 1200 individuals and registered more than 95,000 households impacted by the hurricane (Canadian Red Cross, 2022). Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office reminded Nova Scotians that floodwaters have also impacted food safety and that drinking water coming from untreated, non-municipal water sources such as lakes, rivers and streams should boil their water before consuming it. (Government of Nova Scotia, Emergency Management Office, September 24th).
CTV News Atlantic reported that the Insurance Bureau of Canada stated that this is the most costly extreme weather event recorded in Atlantic Canada affecting high risk flood areas and flood plains. Initial insured damage is recorded at $660 million (CTV Atlantic October 19th, 2022)
As sea levels rise and arctic ice melts providing the possibility of Artic passages, there will be an additional risk to our peace and security as opposing countries may decide to weaponize water as is currently being done in the Ukraine.
Which populations will be impacted the most: children, pregnant women, seniors, Indigenous people, low socioeconomic populations and people will chronic illnesses

** Climate justice removed from here

For example, in this water rich country of Canada: The Council of Canadians still reported 34 long term drinking water advisories on reserves (Safe Water for First Nations): Retrieved October 20, 2022 from
Indigenous populations stewardship in water security
The policy brief Indigenous people, water, & climate change (2020) pinpoints that Indigenous populations are custodians to many fragile, important water ecosystems and headwaters where they live. They see water as a living entity and have a powerful ethical connection to water stewardship built on their social-cultural values. We can learn from their traditional knowledge about climate resilience and how women keep the traditional ecological knowledge and they deserve to be respected.
Water insecurity:
Affects food security as waters become warmer and there are also fluctuations in agricultural yields and the stress on agriculture. Warmer water temperatures also increase the growth of toxic blue-green algae that kills off marine life. (Martin & Vold, 2019)
Role of Physician:
Physicians and nurses, as the two biggest health care providers, have a critical and collaborative role to play in advocating for the Sustainability Development Goals including the goals that link with water security such as food security, health and well-being, gender equity and climate action As respected leaders who work in interdisciplinary communities, actions for equitable planetary health are priorities.
Powerful actions include being a committed, influential consumer and voter buying products and voting for Planetary Health.
Physicians share and convey their knowledge of Planetary Health to patients, the public, politicians, faith groups, academics and emphasize the vital importance of Planetary Health.
Caring, empathetic culturally sensitive physicians are aware of the impacts of climate changes on a patient’s mental, physical, spiritual and economic insecurities especially if there is grief and loss of their home, their forced change in residence and livelihood.
Physicians assist pregnant women to keep adverse birth outcomes to a minimum for example< recommending and encouraging that they get enough rest since getting enough rest is difficult to do. (Howard, Rose, Rivers (2018)
Physicians can enlighten everyone about the importance of emergency preparedness and direct the public and our colleagues to local resources such as local farms and contributions to local food security especially if patient and family are climate migrants who have been displaced and lost everything because of an extreme weather event.
Physicians can learn, understand and teach climate science in order to educate the public, our patients and our governments in calling for meaningful actions and in the importance of community-building and a community response.
Collectively, physicians can join an organization such as the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and support actions for a healthy planet such as writing letters to the editors or signing petitions.
Physicians can keep track of the spread of diseases due to climate change such as West Nile Virus spreading northward
Physicians can learn and incorporate Indigenous values into their environmental work.
Physicians will be dealing with a high percentage of mental health traumas and distressed communities when dire climate change events has drastically impacted their mental health and well-being becoming a risk amplifier disrupting important supports for good mental health. (Lawrence, Thompson et al, 2022). Symptoms may include post-traumatic stress, grief from devastating losses of homes, livelihoods, friends and having to start all over again and may not even have clean water to drink. ( McCue, D. 2018). Patients may have eco-anxiety, eco-paralysis or solastalgra. (Albrecht 2011).

Striving to provide a respectful, secure place for discussion of water challenges that impact everyone, the University of Saskatchewan’s Virtual Water Gallery has been a Global Water Funded pilot project that scientifically addressed past, current and future water challenges by combining both science and art in a safe, inclusive, considerate and collaborative space for discussions between scientists, artists, and the general public. The outcome of this gallery space resulted in creative art pieces designed by the artists in a variety of media exhibited for all to see, to interact with and to converse about water challenges.(Arnal, Pomeroy et al, 2020).
To achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, respected, knowledgeable physicians, who are leaders and role-models, will unite in interdisciplinary collective, collaboration actions, speaking out as agents of change and advocacy, teaching and caring for patients and their communities and interacting with decision-makers in continuing necessary conversations and actions to achieve the human right to have equally accessible, secure clean water.
References: Libby Porter, Lauren Rickards, Blanche Verlie, Karyn Bosomworth, Susie Moloney, Bronwyn Lay, Ben Latham, Isabelle Anguelovski & David Pellow (2020) Climate Justice in a Climate Changed World, Planning Theory & Practice, 21:2, 293-321, DOI: 10.1080/14649357.2020.1748959


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