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

Residents in Jackson, Mississippi, began boiling water in late July, and local health officials warned the city’s water supply was cloudy. This was already an unacceptable request, but it erupted this week when a local river overflowed and caused problems at the OB Curtis water plant, resulting in a water shortage.​​​

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued a statement on August 30 declaring a state of emergency. However, the statement did not outline plans to restore water to the city’s capital, nor did it provide an update on when Jackson’s nearly 150,000 residents could expect the shortage to end. Instead, they were told they would be without clean water “indefinitely,” the local news outlet reported.

Having clean water is clearly a public health concern: other than having to boil water, people in Jackson currently have nothing to flush toilets or put out fires in order to drink it safely, according to a statement from Governor Tate’s office water pressure. The situation was so dire that the city temporarily had no bottled water distributed to residents earlier this week, CNN reported. President Biden has officially declared a state of emergency in Mississippi, meaning emergency federal aid is now on its way to Jackson, press secretary Carine Jean-Pierre tweeted.

It’s important to note that over 80% of Jackson’s residents are black — this crisis is a very clear case of environmental racism. The term is used to describe “the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color,” according to Greenaction, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental justice initiatives. Some experts have compared Jackson’s situation to the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, during which the city’s predominantly black residents had no access to clean water for years due to lead contamination.

“It’s no coincidence. [Jackson] is a black city and people know there’s a problem and don’t pay to fix it,” Dr. Colin Jerolmack, a professor of sociology and environmental studies at NYU, told SELF “It’s the result of a legacy of racism. You can draw a straight line from previous acts of racism (such as discrimination) to environmental racism. “

People on social media are particularly concerned about the city’s lack of necessary infrastructure updates. As NPR reports, Jackson had been dealing with this particular water crisis long before the “constant” deteriorating water system,” in part because the city does not have proper infrastructure funding. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said these critical improvements now cost $2 billion to implement.

This This type of systemic racial inequality is not new, nor is it limited to the South, traditionally red states, or any other specific part of the U.S., Jerolmack said. Environmental racism in the form of urban planning and outdated infrastructure is also critical to New York City. and marginalized groups in traditional blue cities such as Philadelphia have had a significant impact.



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