COVID-19 and Drinking Water Security in Rural, Remote and Indigenous Communities: the Role of Collaboration among Diverse Actors in Responding to a Global Pandemic

COVID-19 and Drinking Water Security in Rural, Remote and Indigenous Communities


  • Sondra Eger Memorial University of Newfoundland - Grenfell Campus
  • Sarah Minnes University of Guelph
  • Amy Hudson NunatuKavut Community Council
  • Kelly Vodden Environmental Policy Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland - Grenfell Campus
  • Kathleen Parewick Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Deatra Walsh Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador


Many rural and remote Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada lack access to clean, safe drinking water due to inadequate drinking water infrastructure, among other challenges. The case of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) highlights that water security and water infrastructure challenges can be exacerbated by a pandemic. We examine the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic on diverse communities in NL that rely on Potable Water Dispensing Units (PWDUs) as key elements of their drinking water systems, finding that the unique capacities of communities with PWDUs resulted in a spectrum of responses and abilities to adapt. Of the concerns and challenges mentioned, the most common included: evolving guidance and resources; limited capacity to adapt to new guidelines and procedures; COVID-19 related barriers affecting training and construction; and, added stress for local jurisdictions to maintain/provide services.

Through a collaborative analysis of communities’ experiences, we conclude that there is a need for a more coordinated and tailored response to effectively support rural and remote communities during a pandemic. Such a response would include a place-specific approach that leverages local, regional, and provincial capacities. In particular, a community-specific understanding of preferred communications mechanisms and content is required. Additionally, sharing knowledge and resources in advance of an emergency situation, such as a pandemic, will be critical for more informed and nimble response in the case of future crises. 

The diverse experiences and responses of communities in NL with PWDU, along with that of other governing agencies and organizations, illustrate that collaboration across multiple actor groups and jurisdictions are key to addressing drinking water challenges in times of crisis. As a result, this research concludes that the capacity of rural and remote communities to provide clean safe drinking water, during a pandemic and beyond, is strengthened when various levels of governments and organizations (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) with drinking water-related responsibilities adopt a collaborative multi-level governance approach that facilitates connections across diverse actors within the water governance system.