The Jackson, MS water crisis is a public health failure rooted in systemic racism

Residents of Jackson, Mississippi began boiling their water when, in late July, local health officials warned that the city’s water supply was cloudy. It was already an unacceptable request, but the situation imploded this week when a local river flooded and caused problems at the OB Curtis water plant, leading to a water shortage.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued a statement announcing a state of emergency on August 30. However, the statement did not outline plans to restore the city’s capital water supply, or provide updates on when Jackson’s nearly 150,000 residents can expect the shortage. . finish. Instead, they were told they would be without drinking water “indefinitely”, local media report.

Having clean water is very obviously a public health issue: in addition to having to boil water to drink it safely, residents of Jackson currently do not have the water pressure to draw flushing toilets or fighting fires, according to the statement from Governor Tate’s office. . The situation is so dire that the city temporarily ran out of bottled water to distribute to residents earlier this week, CNN reported. President Biden has officially declared a state of emergency for the state of Mississippi, which means urgent federal aid is now on its way to Jackson, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted.

It’s important to note that more than 80% of Jackson’s residents are black — and this crisis is a painfully clear case of environmental racism. This term is used to describe “the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color,” according to Greenaction, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental justice initiatives. Some experts are comparing the current situation in Jackson to the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, during which the city’s mostly black residents were denied access to clean drinking water due to lead contamination for years.

” It is not a coincidence. [Jackson] is a disproportionately black city where people knew there was a problem,” and didn’t spend the money to fix it, Colin Jerolmack, PhD, NYU sociology and environmental studies professor, tells SELF . “It is the result of a legacy of racism. You could draw a straight line [from] past racist acts, such as discrimination, to environmental racism.

people on social media have drew particular attention to the lack of necessary updates to the city’s infrastructure. As NPR reportsJackson was dealing with “a deteriorating water supply system” long before this particular water crisis, in part because the city didn’t have the proper infrastructure funding. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said these critical improvements will now require $2 billion to implement.

This kind of systemic racial inequality isn’t new and isn’t limited to the South, traditionally red states, or any other specific region of the United States, Jerolmack says. Environmental racism in the form of outdated urban planning and infrastructure has also had a major impact on marginalized groups in traditionally blue cities like New York and Philadelphia.

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