Drinking Water and Potential Threats to Human Health in Nunavik: Adaptation Strategies under Climate Change Conditions

  • Daniel Martin
  • Diane Bélanger
  • Pierre Gosselin
  • Josée Brazeau
  • Chris Furgal
  • Serge Déry
Keywords: climate change, drinking water, human health, gastroenteric diseases, Inuit, Nunavik


In Nunavik, chlorine-treated water is delivered daily, by tank truck, to the houses, where it is stored in tanks. A large part of the Inuit population continues to depend on an untreated water supply, however. This traditional activity poses certain risks in a region with an abundant presence of migratory animals. Nunavik has also experienced significant climate warming since the beginning of the last decade. The main goal of this study, which took place in 2003 and 2004, was to evaluate drinking habits that may place Nunavik residents at an increased risk of gastroenteric diseases in the context of climate change. During the Amundsen cruise in fall 2004, we observed that raw water from the collection sites most frequently visited (brooks, lakes, rivers) was of good quality in most of the villages. Regular monitoring of these sites is necessary, however, and the public should be warned when the sites become contaminated. Of particular concern was the water from the individual storage containers, which was much more contaminated than the water at the collection sites. To develop or improve the climate change adaptation strategies in this area, we propose 1) establishing an appropriate environmental monitoring system, 2) improving wastewater disposal and municipal water systems, 3) involving nursing staff in microbiological testing of the water at community sites, 4) raising public awareness of the risks related to raw water consumption, and 5) gathering strategic health information during the periods of the year when cases of gastroenteric diseases are most frequent, in order to establish whether there is a link between these disorders and water quality.