British Columbia

Highway closures in B.C. raise concerns about local food security during disaster

A recent spate of road closures has highlighted how dependent B.C. communities are on regular shipments of food and other supplies.

Experts say communities have between 3-5 days of supplies before more needs to be shipped in

Save on Foods in Prince George posted notices apologizing for the lack of fresh produce after dangerous roads prevented trucks from moving out of the Lower Mainland into the rest of the province. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A series of highway closures has highlighted how dependent B.C. communities are on regular shipments of food and supplies and raised questions about what would happen to that supply chain during a prolonged emergency.

Produce sections in B.C. grocery stores were running low, just one day after the Lower Mainland was cut off from the rest of the province as freezing rain made every highway into and out of the region unpassable.

Dairy products at the Terrace Safeway ran low during highway closures on the Lower Mainland. (Steve Smyth)

"People don't realize that all it takes is 48 hours and food will run off the shelves if there's not a supply coming in at all times," said Marli Bodhi, a researcher at UNBC who has studied food security in Fort St. John and Terrace.

Every community at risk

The dependency isn't limited to northern communities.

Heather Lyle of Emergency Management B.C. said most food suppliers in the province have between three and five days worth of supplies.

"So, if our transportation routes are impacted ... it's going to take some time for us to figure out how to reroute, how to restage," she said. 

Bodhi said with extreme weather conditions expected to become more frequent, communities should think about preparing for future disasters by analyzing supply chains and access to food locally.

Cars on the Coquihalla were stuck overnight after the road closed the afternoon of February 9. Several other B.C. highways have been closed off and on since then. (Daniel Hirner)

She said increasing food security is an area  where municipalities can take the lead by supporting local organizations aimed at doing the same.

She pointed to canning workshops put on by the Northern Environmental Action Team in Fort St. John and space set aside by Terrace for a weekly farmer's market as good examples of the work that should be supported.

She also said more can always be done to prepare for disaster.

Listen to Bodhi share more thoughts on food security in B.C.

"When I did my research in Terrace there were a lot of complaints about people who did hunt and gather their own food but they didn't have the storage available. They didn't have cold space to store their own food," she said.

"Even allowing space or creating workshops to help facilitate education for individuals about how to grow or how to build cold storage facilities can be helpful."

"We should be consuming food that we can grow in our community and that creates less dependency on foods that are being shipped in."

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