Food insecurity and tainted water: Iqaluit grapples with dual crises
TORONTO -- Amid the ongoing contaminated water crisis in Nunavut's capital city, the impact of another crisis is hitting some residents extremely hard.
Grocery items are often two to three times more expensive than they are in southern Canada, and despite the federal government's subsidy program, Nunavut residents are still left paying exorbitant prices.
Iqaluit resident Kyra Flaherty's TikTok videos have gained widespread attention for documenting some of these prices.
"I try my best to bring awareness to the situation through TikTok," Flaherty told CTV National News. "I think the first step that we need to take in order for there to be change is for not just Nunavut, but all of Canada to be aware of what's going on."
Some of the prices seen on Flaherty's TikTok include $10.99 for a dozen eggs, $12.89 for a jug of chocolate milk and even $17.99 for a box of cookies advertised at 50 per cent off. Flaherty says she spends upwards of $1,000 a week on groceries.
Since there are no roads connecting Nunavut to the rest of Canada, groceries have to be flown in or shipped in, leading to high prices for consumers.
On top of that, Iqaluit also has some of Canada's most expensive housing. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,736, far exceeding rent prices in Toronto and Vancouver.
As a result, nearly 70 per cent of Nunavut residents are food insecure, according to the Nunavut Food Security Coalition.
Since last week Tuesday, Iqaluit residents have been relying on airlifted bottled water after the city found that the tap water had been contaminated with fuel.
The Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre in Iqaluit, which feeds hundreds of people per day, has seen more people use its services since the start of the water crisis. Rachel Blais, who is the food centre's executive director, says the water crisis has only worsened the ongoing food insecurity crisis.
"Even if they have access to healthy affordable food, if they don't have clean water to wash their produce with or to cook, they're not able to cook healthy meals," Blais told CTV National News.
Back in 2011, the federal government launched the Nutrition North program, a subsidy program aimed at making groceries more affordable for remote communities in the Arctic. The feds are promising to strengthen the program, pledging more than $163 million over the next three years.
Northern Affairs says it’s committed to ensuring its food subsidy is passed onto consumers. But Blais says the program needs more oversight.
"The subsidies go directly to the retailers and there doesn't seem to be a lot of transparency about exactly how those funds are used and if it's passed on to consumers," she said.
As for Flaherty, she worries about what future her three-year-old son will have in the Arctic.
"I feel like people aren't being heard here and people aren't being taken seriously," she said.