What’s in your backyard?

Winnipeg Free Press short documentary No Running Water explores lacking access to water in Manitoba’s backyard

Over the last two weeks, the world has watched the media roller coaster turned witch hunt that is Kony 2012. The video exploded on the Internet to mass social networking frenzy amassing some 55 million views on YouTube. Then, just as quickly, an outpouring of criticism and backlash appeared, spawning dozens of cringe-worthy memes and culminated in a very public meltdown for Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell.

Much of the criticism surrounding the film had to do with the North American tendency to oversimplify issues in other countries and throw money at the problem. Many pointed out that Canada, too, has Human Rights issues that deserve attention. 

But, getting people to turn their critical eye homeward isn’t always easy.

“People find it easier to empathize with people overseas that they don’t know,” says Helen Fallding, former journalist for the Winnipeg Free Press turned researcher for University of Manitoba’s Water Rights Research Consortium.

“Most Canadians want to believe we live in a fair country.”

In 2010, Helen Fallding and photojournalist Joe Bryska travelled north to the Island to St. Theresa Point; the site of some 300 communities without running water.

The area first caught the attention of the Winnipeg Free Press as it was particularly devastated by the H1N1 virus.

“When people are living in overcrowded houses without running water, you can’t expect them to be healthy,” Fallding says a colleague told her.

What they came away with was harrowing. Fallding simply says that “to really understand… you need an image.”

So, the Winnipeg Free Press, in partnership with the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, cut the footage to create the segment No Running Water.

Needless to say, it didn’t quite incite the call to action or media maelstrom reserved for it’s more hip counterparts.

“After the first series of stories and the video ran, there was next to no response from governments,” Helen Fallding says.

In 2010, the United Nations confirmed that access to clean drinking water and proper sanitization is a human right.

But “because it’s kind of a newly recognized right…it’s still playing out how that’s going to be reinforced in the world.”

Fallding and her colleagues at the Water Rights Research Consortium (an initiative of the University of Manitoba) understand that keeping the issue on the public agenda is crucial to spreading awareness and enacting change.

In 2011, Fallding returned to St. Theresa Point with Bryska.

“My sense is that a few people, very few people, were in a better situation”.

The Canadian government has promised to to allot 5.5 million dollars to the Island Lake communities, and equip 100 homes with running water.

However, there are 950 homes in the 300 communities of Island Lake without access to running water. Even with recent government contribution, 850 homes in Northern Manitoba are denied access to water, a basic human right.

Running Water will be showing at the Human Rights Festival presented by the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties on Thursday, March 22, at the Carol Shields Auditorium, in the Millennium Library at 12:00 p.m. Admission is free.

If you cannot attend the screening, the film is available online at www.winnipegfreepress.com/no-running-water.

Published in Volume 66, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 21, 2012)

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