The Northwest Territories government has hired two officials to help flooded communities navigate disaster relief, after MLAs expressed confusion about how those affected could access support.
In the Legislative Assembly on Monday, Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson said when visiting Fort Good Hope over the weekend he was “very impressed” with the Sahtu community’s flooding preparations. He questioned what the territorial government was doing to help and who would be taking the lead on flood recovery.
“It’s time for this government to actually step up. The community has done their part,” he said.
“Right now, it’s an uncertain time for many of those victims who have been displaced.”
Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Paulie Chinna said a disaster assistance committee is overseeing coordination of the territory’s flood recovery efforts, and assisting the NWT in applying for federal funding.
“We’re moving very quickly as a department but it seems like very slow progress because we have to be preparing this disaster committee as well, too, and looking after our financial response and what we can submit to the federal government,” she said.
Chinna said the territorial government hired two navigators on Friday, who will be in the Dehcho this week to provide immediate assistance and answer questions. Chinna said territorial staff would also be travelling to Fort Good Hope to assess the supports the community needs.
Last week, Chinna briefed regular MLAs on a disaster assistance policy that offers up to $100,000 per applicant. But many MLAs said they were still unclear on how residents could apply for funding, and when they could expect to receive money.
Asked by Simpson on Monday if support would be provided directly to those struggling to meet everyday living costs, Chinna said the territory’s main priority right now is housing and enabling evacuees to return to their homes. She noted that evacuation centres in Fort Providence and Inuvik are currently providing assistance to flooding victims.
Simpson also questioned how the territorial government would improve communication, saying it “fell short” on even initially acknowledging the flooding.
“We’ve got to be concise and precise,” he said, adding that “people in the communities are looking for answers.”
Chinna said she has been meeting with leadership in flood risk communities for the past four weeks and that “adequate information” is being provided.
In Fort Simpson, Mayor Sean Whelly said: “I realize that governments often don’t respond instantaneously, and that we have had a bit of a delay now. They seem to be getting their feet on the ground and I think things will start to proceed in a more orderly manner.
“I do believe the message has been received, both from the community and myself, that we want this whole process speeded up and more coordination. More contact with the individual homeowners so they can understand that they’re being helped.
“Words are one thing but actions are another. And I think what the people are trying to tell you is they not only want information, they want action.”
The flooding caused in the NWT by ice breakup this year is the worst that many communities have experienced on record.
Residents on Hay River’s Vale Island, the entire community of Jean Marie River, and hundreds of people in Fort Simpson were directly affected by flooding and had to evacuate their homes.
On Friday, the Beaufort Delta community of Aklavik declared a state of emergency due to the risk of flooding. By Monday, around 170 residents were evacuated to the nearby community of Inuvik.
A state of emergency was declared in Fort Good Hope on May 25 and at least 13 households were evacuated.
Sarah Sibley contributed reporting.