Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Lethbridge for kindly allowing me to share his time.
Bill C-6 is extraordinary in that it deals with a substance that we cannot live without. Millions of people live without love. We can live without food for a month, but we will die within a week if we do not have water. As an ancient poet said: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”. It is not quite that bad but we have some significant problems.
As my colleague and others have mentioned, the bill is very important in terms of securing our water resources. Canada has 9% of the world's freshwater. This is a significant issue from an international perspective and is one which I will address later in my speech.
The bill does a good job of guarding our water but much more needs to be done. Ninety-seven per cent of the water in the world is salt water, which is made up of 3% solids and 97% freshwater. Therefore, only 3% of all the water in the world right now, if we exclude salt water, is freshwater in various pockets and pools. Extraordinarily enough, the amount of water we have today is the same as we had at the beginning of time. It just changes and flows through the hydrological cycle throughout the world, which is quite fascinating. However, we are abusing it. With our burgeoning population, increasing demands and urbanization, we are putting extraordinary stresses on the world's water systems.
My colleagues mentioned the stresses on the Great Lakes system, such as acid rain, acidification of waters, the damming of waters, the changing of the hydrological cycle, the modifying of it, pollution, mercury and cadmium, the latter of which has caused significant health problems in a number of populations around the world, including Canada. In the St. Lawrence system, the content of carcinogenic and teratogenic substances in the meat of beluga whales is so high that a dead beluga whale would be considered toxic waste. That is the result of the elements and pollutants in the water.
Internationally, more than one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. In North America we are prolific users of water. We use a lot of it, waste a lot of it and pollute a lot of it. Internationally the impact upon water has been significant. In the Dead Sea the water level has dropped by about 10 metres. In China more than 80% of the rivers do not support fish anymore. That is extraordinary and is a growing problem all over the world.
Pollution, desertification, the damming and wasting of our waters is having a significant effect. I had hoped that the bill would have had something to say about these important issues.
As I mentioned before, we are prolific users because we do not value water. The cost of water in North America is far less than its value. Some places in the United States have about $500 worth of subsidies per acre on some lands, which greatly exceeds the value of those lands. Some farmers pay about 3% of the value of the water they receive.
What can we do to preserve it? Domestically, we have to ensure that the cost reflects the value. Australia has done some very exciting work in terms of having a market oriented approach to water. This has greatly improved its ability to conserve water, reducing consumption by about 40% with no effect on the GDP.
We also have to conserve more. In Asia they are using pour toilets instead of flush toilets, saving between six and sixteen litres of water per flush. Australia and the Middle East specialize in new and better irrigation systems where they can use salt water for certain crops or use desalinization processes which are becoming more efficient.
Internationally, more than 300 river systems are transboundary. They will have a massive effect on the future as our population grows. We fear that countries will fight that over water. None of us can survive without water. Thomas Homer-Dixon, Robert Kaplan and many other authors have repeatedly and quite eloquently warned that in the future, water is what we will fight over.
When one looks at the Middle East as an example, people are fighting over land, land which is by and large desert. It is land where the aquifers are so low that in the future there will not be any water there at all. The wars which are taking place right now will wars over pieces of land which will be largely uninhabitable in the future, yet nobody really talks about that.
Internationally, we have to look at other countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sudan and Egypt and many other areas where water will be a potential area of conflict. Part of Canada's role in the future will be looking at ways to conserve and improve water not only at home, but also internationally by researching and developing new methods of water conservation, finding new ways to use salt water, such as desalinization procedures which would be more efficient, and finding ways to stop polluting our waters.
This has been a significant problem. We saw the tragedy in Walkerton. We have seen the effect of acid rain. We know that many of our lakes and rivers have been completely destroyed. The fish are toxic. As a country it behooves us to take responsibility for our water systems. What we do to our water systems not only affects us but affects people in other countries too. The House of Commons and the government has a responsibility to all Canadians to ensure that the very essence of life, which is water, will be preserved in some way.
Ways of doing that would be by decreasing demand, looking at new conservation tools and spreading them widely across the country, having new pricing mechanisms so that the value of water is truly reflected in its cost and making sure that existing conservation mechanisms are more efficient.
A lot of exciting work is being done all over the world demonstrating the ways we can preserve and conserve water. I hope the government works with its provincial counterparts to do that.
Speaking now on the international scene, there are a lot of water borne diseases. Malaria can be considered a water borne disease. Bilharzia, which is spread by snails and affects almost 200 million people, is expanding dramatically and is having a profound impact on people. This disease can kill. I remember treating a 20 year old woman in Africa who bled to death as a direct result of being infected by this parasite. Her veins in her esophagus burst and we could not stop the bleeding.
This is not an academic exercise at all. This issue affects people all over the world. In Canada we have seen the effect of the Walkerton tragedy and our inability to secure our water system. Canadians have a deep seated concern. There are boiled water warnings. I do not have the exact figures but they are quite significant. From Newfoundland to British Columbia, boiled water advisories are out because we have been unable to secure our water resources and ensure that safe, potable water is the right of all Canadians.
At the present time none of us see adequate leadership on this level. I hope the federal government will work with its provincial counterparts to develop a national strategy to secure our water resources. The bill is good in terms of ensuring that we will not damage our water resources or impede or damage the water resources that go to other countries. It is very important that we ensure that the water within our borders is secure. It is important that we ensure that Canadians have access to potable water so we do not have further tragedies such as Walkerton.
There are two basic elements in what we should do beyond this. There are domestic issues in terms of conservation, dealing with the pollution of our water systems and new irrigation methodologies which can be very efficient. Internationally, it is important that our Minster of Foreign Affairs work with other countries and point out that water is a potential flash point for conflicts in the future and things have to be done to ensure that this is dealt with.