Abraham Maslow put physiological needs such as drinking water at the base of his hierarchy of human needs. “Water is a basic need next to air, and getting enough sleep,” soil scientist Dr. Annemieke Farenhorst reminded students Oct. 4, 2017. Only one per cent of the world’s freshwater is easily accessible for human consumption. The average Canadian uses 300 litres of water a day, which is well above the global average.

More than three billion people in the world do not have access to piped water. Dr. Farenhorst said “NASA can send people to Mars, investing billions of dollars to make sure a handful of people have clean drinking water, yet many people still have no access to water on Earth.” The sewage disposal in many First Nations communities is at the same level as developing countries. Naysayers believe it is not possible to fix these problems but, “Voyager 1 is 20.6 billion kilometers from Earth and still returns data to NASA,” Farenhorst said. If we can do such amazing things in space, why can’t we fix the problems in our own backyard?

Microbiologist Dr. Ayush Kumar said “I had no idea we had pockets of Third World countries within our own backyard, less than 300 kilometers away.” About 80 years ago, if you cut yourself and it got infected, you would die. Then antibiotics were discovered, and life expectancy increased. But now bacteria are becoming more resistant, and in 2016 a super bug was discovered that resisted 26 different antibiotics. This occurred due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Kumar talked about a man who had made yogurt for years with organic milk. One day he used grocery store milk and the antibiotics in the milk killed the yogurt’s good bacteria.

There is a large gap in life expectancy between First Nation people living on reserve (females 73 and males 64) and other Canadians (females 83 and males 79).  Kumar found antibiotic resistant genes that can cause severe skin infections in drinking water on a First Nation reserve. E. coli bacteria were also found in water on some First Nation reserves, especially in homes that store water in cisterns or buckets. Kumar left us with two questions: Does any human being deserve to drink water like this? What do you say to a child who asks if he should be using the water to brush his teeth?

Presentation slides

Audio podcasts are also available of seminars in this series.