What now? Flint, MI, accountability, and the future.
Written by: Andrea Del Rosario
If I were to begin writing a post on lack of access to clean water in the world, there are many assumptions that can be made about the places that I may be writing about. Many of those assumptions may come from stereotypes about certain countries and false narratives about certain continents in the world. I did not, however, imagine myself, in 2016, writing about a water crisis that is happening right here in my own country. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan earlier this month due to its lead-poisoned water that the residents of Flint have been exposed to for over two years.
There is so much to say about the fact that there is a city in the United States, in this day and age, that does not have access to a vital resource within their community. What is more ironic is that this water crisis is happening in the Great Lake State as Flint Mayor Karen Weaver pointed out in her speech at The United States Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. This conversation can go many ways, from how the local and state government allowed this to happen, how this could have been easily prevented , to the restrictions that had been placed to acquire bottled water that was being distributed. In researching the Flint water crises, it’s evident these conversations are being had, some more loudly than others, but nonetheless, they are there. However, according to Connor Coyne’s Vox article- an author who lives in Flint, MI, has shared an in depth look at how far back this case goes and how Americans were being ill educated on how bad this crisis was.
Once news went public on the water crisis in Flint, my response was like mosts- shocked, confused, upset. As more has come to light on how the different departments, agencies and other government officials responded, I found myself increasingly disturbed with the lack of human empathy towards the citizens and children of Flint. I think we all agree that this is an absolutely horrible situation, but the more I followed, the harder it was to believe that this was not made up. It was clear to me that something like this could only happen in a place like Flint, MI; where the population is 57% Black, the poverty rate is extremely high and the city itself is struggling financially. My questions stretched beyond figuring out how we got to this moment, rather, I want to know why a resource such as water, something so fundamental to human beings, would be on the table for negotiating savings for the city. I am perplexed by the idea that the state government would impose unelected officials to make almost any fiscal decision they wanted, while simultaneously taking away the voice of the voting citizens of said cities. My personal favorite part of this (read: sarcasm) is that it looks like most officials are pointing the fingers at each other, when it was barely a secret that the water from the Flint River was not apt for any type of consumption. The #SnyderEmails may have been released for “transparency”, but transparency is still foggy when the other contributors of the email threads have been cut from the public. I am not asking why this happened, I am moved beyond that point and trying to come to terms with what will happen after the state of emergency is lifted in 90 days* and Flint’s residents are still lead-poisoned. Some officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have stepped down* and would not be surprised if other officials follow suit, but I would be interested in continuing to follow how all involved in creating this crisis will be held accountable.
We are living in 2016 and access to water in the United States is still an issue. It would be naive and ignorant of me to not acknowledge that clean, safe water is a human right that people in other countries of the world are either being denied or hassled to acquire. But when you live in a country that is considered a superpower and is greatly criticized for its extravagance by the rest of the world, it makes one consider how such a crisis could get by and not be known until its most urgent hour. Other cities in Michigan have also reported levels of lead in their water systems- this is a crisis that needs to handled quickly. Thanks to the citizens of Flint, MI for rallying and calling attention to this issue in your city, we are listening.