A group of Canadian aboriginal leaders said Friday their northern communities are in a state of emergency because abnormally mild temperatures have hindered construction of vital winter roads.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba A group of Canadian aboriginal leaders said Friday their northern communities are in a state of emergency because abnormally mild temperatures have hindered construction of vital winter roads.
"We were told all along that global warming is going to affect our roads and now we see that today," said David Harper, chief of the Garden Hill First Nation.
"Without the winter roads, all essential goods have to be flown into the region."
About 10,000 people live on four Indian reserves in the Island Lake region of Manitoba, some 450 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. There are no roads leading to the remote region and goods are normally brought in by air. But during the coldest months of the year, winter roads are built on frozen lakes and rivers to cut transportation costs.
"It is a looming crisis and something that needs to be addressed," said Dennis Meeches, acting grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
The roads can only be built on ice that is at least 71 centimetres (28 inches) thick. It is still only 20 cm (8 inches) thick in some areas, Harper said.
The road's completion date has been pushed back from Jan. 16 to Feb. 1, and Harper said it may not open at all.
He estimated that a four-litre jug of milk that currently costs around C$16.40 ($14.14) will soon soar to C$20 ($17.24) because of the increased cost of flying goods in throughout the winter. Fuel supplies are also dwindling and may be rationed, the chiefs said.
Major capital projects including housing, and water and sewer, will also be in jeopardy, he said.
Aboriginal leaders are seeking government assistance to tide them over.
The region averages daily highs of -17 Celsius (1 F) and lows of -27 C (-17 F) in January. Environment Canada said the area has averaged -5 C (23 F) highs and -12 C (10 F) lows so far this month.
The unusual weather has been caused by a persistent westerly from the Pacific Ocean rather than the more typical northerly from the Arctic, the national weather service said.