In the last few days of September 2021, the unmistakable smell of gasoline emanating from kitchen and bathroom faucets was, to the residents of Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, the first sign that something was wrong with the water.
When city staff began investigating, they confirmed what had been obvious to residents. Fuel was contaminating the city’s treated water supply, rendering it unsafe to drink even when filtered or boiled.
A state of emergency was declared on October 12. Able-bodied residents with vehicles filled jugs and other containers in the icy waters of the Sylvia Grinnel River just outside the city. Those without vehicles were looking for rides to the only available source of uncontaminated water, which still needed to be boiled before use.
When the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Canada heard of the crisis, it responded immediately. With the help of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Conference of the Adventist Church and the Iqaluit Seventh-day Adventist Group, 30 gravity filtration units were sent to Iqaluit for distribution. ADRA focused on the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, childcare centers, and group homes, in addition to the most vulnerable households.
Rachel Blais, who serves as executive director of the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, was grateful for the donation of two water units from ADRA. Qajuqturvik staff members were also resorting to river water to produce the food and drinks required for service to the most vulnerable in Iqaluit, which sometimes numbered 250 people per day in the early weeks of the crisis.
“I’m so grateful to ADRA for the water filters. They’ve alleviated a huge need for potable water here at Qajuqturvik,” Blais said. “Because people didn’t have clean drinking water to cook with or wash their produce with, it meant that they were coming here to the food center to get a healthy, fresh meal. We had staff collecting, boiling, and cooling water for use.
“So, the water filters that ADRA supplied us with were crucial to alleviating a lot of that burden. We were able to just put it through the filter, giving us a steady supply of clean water that didn’t require boiling or cooling. We’re incredibly grateful to ADRA for supplying those filters to us.”
Across town at the Tundra Buddies Day Care, the story was much the same. Chef Michael Lockley works to prepare healthy food and snacks for the center's 35 to 65 children. Because of the shortage of experienced, trained professionals willing to work in the North, he also cooks for the Uquutaq Men’s Shelter, a 60-bed facility in Iqaluit. His days are long — from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. — and sometimes include weekends.
“The water crisis is a big problem,” Lockley said. “The ADRA water filter is great because you don’t have to monitor it. You can fill it up and move on to other things, so it’s great.”
Though perhaps most known for its international work, ADRA is also meeting needs in Canada through its Canadian Programs. The agency is partnering with conferences, local churches, and volunteers across the country to reach, in tangible ways, neighbors who face sudden or ongoing crises.