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Manitoba Hydro and health on First Nations

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Last week I wrote about the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol and the Keeyask generating station.

Simply, international evaluators gave Hydro the highest possible score on 16 of 22 areas assessed, which Hydro says is more than any other project officially assessed to date in the world.

High praise, in other words.  

The 22 areas evaluated are found in the report's table of contents.  

However, on page 98 is this section having to do with public health:

"There are no firm plans to respond to opportunities to improve non-communicable health conditions, irrespective of the impact attributable to Keeyask," the report says. "Owing to the significance of public-health risks, the absence of detailed processes at this stage is a significant gap against proven best practice."

This is more fully explored is the last paragraph of page 99 and continues on page 100.

The evalulators acknowledge the health problems experienced by remote First Nations, particularly the four that have partnered with Hydro in the development  of Keeyask: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake, War Lake and York Factory.

"The communities affected by Keeyask face a range of public health issues, particularly non-communicable health concerns," the reports says. " These include: a poorly-balanced diet, resulting in a high prevalence of obesity and diabetes; alcohol and drug misuse, linked to a high incidence of violence and sexual violence; mental health, depression and anxiety; and skin conditions.

"The high incidence of these non-communicable health issues is related to the legacy of Canada's historical treatment of the First Nations, including previous poorly-managed impacts of hydropower developments."

The assessors go onto to say firmer plans have to be put into place to deal with these issues, not just by Manitoba Hydro, but those in responsible for the delivery of healthcare.

Hydro also outlined those health concerns in its environmental impact study (EIS) of the project now before the Clean Environment Commission, which is in public hearings to decide to recommend to the province to issue an environmental licence.

"We are not suggesting that Manitoba Hydro become a health-service provider per se, but rather that the Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership (KHLP) ensure that a process or plan has been agreed with one or more appropriate health-service provider(s) to address any emerging risks or impacts on public health arising as a result of the Keeyask project," lead assessor Dr. Bernt Rydgren said in an email.

"The protocol also asks, at the level of proven best practice, that opportunities are taken to address public health beyond the impact of the project. This would also require an agreement with a suitable health-service provider."

Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said that's happening.

"The International Hydropower Association (IHA) assessors were in fact looking for the partnership (KHLP) to take responsibility for, or to improve, some health delivery services which in our province/country are the responsibility of government.

"Consistent with commitments in the EIS and noted in the IHA assessment, Manitoba Hydro has continued to work with the Northern Regional Health Authority to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to address any increased demand as a result of upcoming Manitoba Hydro projects.

"The NRHA is fully aware of these projects and is incorporating any additional requirements into its five-year plan for the region."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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