Having access to clean water is not something that most Americans have to think about. But for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi that is a daily concern. Since 2012 Jackson’s water systems have been questionable but people were able to get by, barely. Then disaster struck this summer (2022).
Due to record setting rains, the Pearl River flooded causing water treatment issues for Jackson’s main water plant, the O.B. Curtis Water Plant. The Pearl River is essential in providing residents of Jackson with drinking water. With roughly 150,000 people no longer able to access water a state of emergency was declared by Governor Tate Reeves.
This incident occurred in late August and the struggles to maintain safe water and adequate water pressure has been ongoing since. Even prior to this, residents of Jackson were warned to boil their water due to contaminants. One contaminant that has long threatened the city has been E. coli.
While some federal funding has been allocated to water and sewage issues within Mississippi as a whole, the efforts made to fix Jackson’s water systems have been inadequate leaving large numbers of citizens without safe drinking water for their basic needs. The state has failed to address and correct the city’s issues even with the Environmental Protection Agency (a federal government agency) making clear the dangers of Jackson’s water in 2020.
With contaminated water can come sickness, along with risk of diseases and even death. According to the World Health Organization, consuming contaminated water puts people at risk for “diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio.” Living without clean water means living in a constant state of danger. Additionally, without access to safe water, everyday tasks become a burden. It can either be challenging or impossible to shower, flush the toilet, wash dishes, etc. All aspects of life are significantly disrupted by a reality like the one the residents of Jackson have long faced.
The lack of response, over the years, to Jackson’s water crisis can in part be attributed to the demographics of the city. While Mississippi is a majority white state, Jackson is a majority black or African American city. Over 82% of the residents of Jackson identify as Black or African American. Additionally, the city has a large low-income population, with 1 in 4 people battling poverty daily, meaning they do not have sufficient resources to meet basic needs.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see the environmental safety needs of minorities and low-income citizens be neglected. This is known as environmental injustice. In prolonged and extreme situations, such as this, it is also referred to as environmental racism. Environmental injustice is a systemic issue that causes the physical and mental health of disadvantaged populations to be put at risk. The solution to this is environmental justice, which is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect ot the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
So what can we do to help? The first thing we can do is vote for candidates who advocate for environmental justice each election season. The second thing we can do is donate. To support Jackson residents look for organizations that are committed to aiding the city, including the Community Foundation for Mississippi. For a list and examination of nonprofits helping provide access to clean water worldwide check out this blog: “Top 10 Nonprofits Fighting the Global Water Crisis.” Lastly, we can all engage in conversations either with friends and family or through social media to help spread awareness and educate others on this issue.
For more information on Jackson, Mississippi’s water crisis check out this article, “The Water Crisis in Jackson Follows Years of Failure to Fix an Aging System.”