The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, would likely not have occurred “if the affected population group was well-off or overwhelmingly white,” according to Philip Alston, an expert speaking on behalf of the United Nations.
“[Had] elected officials been much more careful, there would have been a timely response to complaints rather than summary dismissals of concerns, and official accountability would have been insisted upon much sooner,” Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, stated.
Flint, according to the U.S. Census’s QuickFacts, is 56.6 percent Black, 35.7 percent white, 3.9 percent Hispanic, 3.9 percent two or more races, and less than one percent American Indian as well as Asian. 41.6 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. Because of these demographics, the crisis has been described by some as “environmental racism.”
Further, Alston and two additional experts said Tuesday, the water crisis in Flint raises “serious human rights concerns” and immediate action must be taken.
“The Flint case dramatically illustrates the suffering and difficulties that flow from failing to recognize that water is a human right, from failing to ensure that essential services are provided in a non-discriminatory manner, and from treating those who live in poverty in ways that exacerbate their plight,” they stated.
The three independent experts were selected by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council. According to the council’s website, “The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.” These experts are not paid for their positions and are not considered U.N. staff members.
Léo Heller, the special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, called the crisis “a potential violation of [Flint residents’] human rights.”
“Serious problems reported on water quality, particularly high concentrations of lead, are also concerning human rights issues,” Heller said.
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