Nunavut food insecurity: Iqaluit center closes temporarily

IQALUT, Nunavut –

The executive director of a Nunavut food charity says there is a need to address the root causes of food insecurity after 500 people in the regional capital went without a daily meal for a week.

Qajuqturvik Community Food Center offers hot weekday lunches in Iqaluit, which is home to nearly 8,000 people. At the end of February, the building had to shut down temporarily when it ran out of fuel, causing the frozen pipes to burst and other damage.

Executive Director Rachel Blais said center staff handed out food baskets twice that week, but the closure prevented them from serving about 2,500 meals.

“When such a significant portion of the population is dependent on a single charity, it shows the vulnerabilities of society,” he said.

“We cannot continue to rely on food banks and food aid organizations like Qajuqturvik to provide something as basic as food to such a significant portion of the population.”

Nunavut has some of the highest food costs and food insecurity rates in Canada. Data released by Statistics Canada in 2020 shows that 57 percent of households in the region experienced food insecurity in 2017-18.

A March 2018 food price survey of the region revealed that Nunavummiut generally pays more than double the cost for the same products in Ottawa.

“The situation is very bad,” said Blais. “This goes beyond an individual issue, and it’s a systemic issue. It’s an issue we need policy action to address.”

Blais said demand at the food hub has increased since Canada Emergency Response Assistance ended and inflation soared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 it was delivering around 150 meals a day, and now that number has grown to between 400 and 500.

The consumer price index in Iqaluit rose 2.1 percent between January 2021 and 2022 and 3.4 percent between January 2022 and 2023.

“Qajuqturvik has been around for about 15 years and throughout its entire existence, we have never seen such high demand as we see now,” Blais said.

Other food aids in Iqaluit include a food bank that delivers meals every two Saturday mornings, and a breakfast program. The website of the Niqinik Nuatsivik Nunavut Food Bank states that family services have increased from 30 to 145 singles, couples and families in 2022, representing nearly 500 people, about half of whom are under the age of 18.

Stephane Daigle, general manager of Arctic Ventures Marketplace, was awarded volunteer of the year by the Baffin District Chamber of Commerce in 2022 for launching the Food Porch 766 in October 2020. insecurity gaps in the city.

Blais said there are several policies that regional and federal governments can implement or improve to address poverty in Nunavut, such as a basic guaranteed income.

He noted that Canada Child Benefit is not adjusted for regional cost of living, and that Nunavut Child Benefit is $330 per year for families with a net income of $29,921 or less, compared to $1,509 per child per year under the Ontario Child Benefit. He added that income assistance in Nunavut is among the lowest in Canada.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami published the Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy in July 2021.

The federal government launched Nutrition North Canada in 2011 to improve food access in isolated northern communities, providing a subsidy for retailers to ship certain foods and goods to consumers. The program has been criticized by some northerners for failing to adequately address food insecurity, discourage food sovereignty and lack transparency and accountability.

The federal government has since promised to improve the program and updated the subsidized food list, increased subsidy rates, and launched the Harvesters Support Grant. In August, it announced it would spend $143.4 million over two years to expand the program, including $60.9 million to launch a new Community Food Programs Fund to support community food sharing activities.

Ottawa has signed grant agreements with 24 Indigenous governments and organizations to distribute more than $120 million through the Harvesters Support Grant and Community Food Programs Fund, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal announced on Tuesday.

This news from The Canadian Press was first published on March 16, 2023. This article was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.