Flint water crisis should be a priority concern

Flint residents Arthur Woodson, left, and Wade Garvins fill the bed of a pickup truck with water for a Flint resident in need as more than 50 people protest in front of City Hall in downtown Flint, Mich., Monday, April 25, 2016. Protesters show their continued disdain on the two-year anniversary of the date the drinking water source was switched to the Flint River. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP) 

In a juxtaposition to what’s happening in our Supreme Court, the Senate has reached its second bipartisan deal this month to address a water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The lead-contaminated pipes that have resulted in an ongoing public health emergency are now to be replaced with the money authorized by the federal government, according to The Seattle Times.

In quick review, on Jan. 5, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint, where the lead in the area’s drinking water has shown toxic levels — in the bloodstreams of children. The toxicity can be attributed to poor-decision making by the administration run by Snyder. According to MSNBC, Snyder’s office allegedly knew about the contamination and held off on making decisions, because if there’s an issue that can take the back burner, it’s the one about lead compromising the lives of his constituents. According to NBC, the state of Michigan could have prevented this by treating the water for as little as $100 per day.  

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan reached an agreement with Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma that would authorize $170 mil in grants and loans to replace these culpable pipes. This is identical to the proposal initially rejected by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. His initial objections pointed to the surplus budget of Michigan as a reason to not lend any federal money. His commitment to maintain the federal deficit level without increasing it due to an entire town not having access to clean water though strong, may not endure much longer.

The bill is now slated to become a part of the Water Resources Development Act. This bipartisan measure authorizes a variety of water-related projects across the country for flood control and other purposes, which Senators, in times of severe flooding in the southern United States, would be hard-pressed to object to.

Inhofe, chair of the Senate’s environmental panel and the one who brought a snowball in to the Senate as evidence against climate change, calls the bill “fiscally responsible” as it would help Flint but also address the nationwide water infrastructure crisis.

What he fails to mention is the ethical responsibility this country has to helping Flint avoid what resembles a human rights violation. Now, for those who may believe I’m magnifying the situation well beyond what it truly is, the United Nations has defined the rights we all have as humans. On July 28, 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. This means there needs to be sufficient water, about 50 to 100 liters of water per person. The water needs to be safe and acceptable in terms of color, odor, and taste — this is where Flint went wrong by thinking that the concerns of discolored water raised by their citizens were insubstantial. The water must be physically accessible, which means it should not take more than 30 minutes to collect. The water should also be affordable, with the United Nations Development Program suggesting that the cost of water should not exceed three percent of the household income.

First we need to wrap our heads around the fact that our country can be associated with human rights violations, which may be especially difficult given the moral high ground we often claim for ourselves. Wars have been created because of our democratic soap boxes preaching to other countries about their political and labor practices. Yet, from a bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan to our very own Flint water crisis, the undertone of human rights violations still skulks through the more sordid area of the political practices that take place. It may not take the form of child labor, yet it endangers the lives of our citizens nonetheless.

In fact, these practices may be more menacing in the long run as it is easier to ascribe fault to business practices or negligence, merely facilitating the deflection by political officials that the government had any role in the violations of our citizen’s basic rights.

As this is my last weekly column, it only seems fair to thank The Daily Campus for allowing me a medium, more like a soapbox, on which I could publish my thoughts. I’d like to thank my section editor Chris Sacco, managing editor Matt Zabierek, and the editor-in-chief Kayvon Ghoreshi for putting up with me for as long as they have. I feel confident that they can handle pretty much anything after this endeavor. To the rest of my coworkers — thank you for coloring my life in such brilliant shades. 


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.