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Evacuation in the time of COVID-19

By: Kirsten Snider

Canadians continue to deal with COVID-19 and all of the problems that come with it. The rush to secure PPE for frontline workers, the tragedies taking place in long-term care homes, the scramble to make ends meet in the face of business closures. The list goes on. But there is another issue that needs to be part of the conversation: climate change.

Spring flooding has been a fact of life for many living along the St. John River system in New Brunswick, but the breadth and intensity of recent flooding is something new. Rising temperatures, heavier precipitation, and faster snowmelt have caused floodwaters to reach historic levels for the past three years in a row. There have been eight major floods since 2008, and communities along the St. John River are now preparing for a double whammy.

Flood response and the spread of COVID-19

In 2019, the province of New Brunswick opened emergency shelters in chapels and community centres. This year, physical distancing guidelines throw a wrench in these plans.

We already know the devastating impact that sheltering people in close quarters can have. We’ve seen COVID-19 sweep through cruise ships, long-term care homes, detention centres, and homeless shelters. What’s more: the loss of work has limited many people’s capacity for dealing with the inevitable costs of home repairs and relocation. So far, the St. John River is behaving. Unfortunately, Fort McMurray in Alberta hasn’t been so lucky. On Sunday, April 26th, 12,000 residents were forced from their homes as a result of flooding caused by ice jams on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers. I am quickly reminded of the forest fires that swallowed the northern Alberta town in 2016, and how that particular beast awaits many communities once the water dries. We know that physical distancing measures will be in place until a vaccine is developed. We also know that this will likely take well over a calendar year.

Climate change has always been a problem, but now we have a new factor to contend with. Will we rise to the challenge and protect our rural communities?

Kirsten Snider is one of our Parliamentary Interns. The GreenPAC Parliamentary Internship for the Environment is a leadership development program that places young environmental stars with MPs from across the political spectrum. For nine months our interns immerse themselves and learn the inner workings of federal government, as well as attend workshops, committee meetings, leadership development training, and sit-downs with environmental champions.

To apply for the 2020-2021 Parliamentary Internship for the Environment, please click here.


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