People Organize Rapid Response to Federal and State-Created Water Crisis

People's Advocacy Institute volunteers organize water distribution in Jackson, Mississippi.

The most recent boil water advisory in Jackson, Mississippi, issued in late July, was lifted September 15. From August 29 to September 5, Jackson was without water for drinking, bathing, washing, flushing toilets -- all basic needs. It was the third time in the last dozen years that the largely Black city (about 83 per cent of the population of about 150,000) has been without  water. A cold snap in 2021 froze pipes and left tens of thousands of people without running water for a month and the city was under a boil water advisory for at least 225 days during the year. The problems have continued.  

Requirements to boil water are so frequent that most residents have not used the water for drinking for years and are forced to buy water. Now they are standing in lines a mile long for bottled water at locations set up by the city, and even then, supplies run out. Mothers and children are being most severely impacted. The people of the city are expected to be without safe water for a year or more.

There is currently not sufficient water pressure for dealing with fires and hospitals are also having difficulties. Schools were closed and students forced back to remote internet classes. The situation was made worse by recent massive rainstorms and flooding, stemming in part from the impact of climate change.

Organizers in the city have set up additional places for bottled water at schools, fire stations, churches and other sites. The water has been secured through their own mobilizing efforts and donations from individuals and organizations across the country. Teams are also going door to door to ensure people have water as many are unable to get to the distribution locations.

Jackson residents have long been demanding and organizing to secure their right to safe water and to meet their emergency needs. A Rapid Response Network, for example, involving more than thirty organizations statewide, was on the ground even before Jackson was completely without water this time. The People's Advocacy Network has also long been organizing to involve residents in affirming their rights by making their claims on state and federal governments and by joining in local collective governance through a People's Assembly.

As is evident in the present crisis, they are not depending on the state and federal governments which have systematically refused to provide the funding needed to upgrade and modernize the city's main treatment facility, the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, and the backup facility. Even though the treatment facility supplies water to a metro area of about 180,000, including the City of Jackson, Jackson Public School District, City of Byram, two major hospitals, multiple dialysis clinics, long-term care and daycare facilities -- it has systematically been left to decay for decades.

Not only is the racism of the state and federal government evident, but so too is the complete lack of social responsibility and accountability for such a vital necessity as water. Given the relatively small size of the city and a working population where about 25 per cent live below the poverty line, the city alone cannot afford the repairs required. That is the responsibility of the state and federal governments, a duty they refuse to meet.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves asked for and got a declaration of emergency from the federal government, which means emergency funding and resources are available. A sizable portion of those funds will go to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who will now be on the scene. Few have forgotten the brutal repression, racism, toxic trailers, and concentration camps used against the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

As well, federal funding does not go directly to Jackson, but to the state government, which likely will keep most of whatever does not go FEMA and DHS. The lack of shame of state government is such that it has no problem with portable toilets once again being parked outside the Mississippi Capitol building because it has no water.

Not a few in Jackson are also aware that while the Pentagon yearly gets a budget of about $1 trillion, and close to a $100 billion has been sent to Ukraine for war, the $2 billion or $3 billion needed to upgrade Jackson's water treatment plant is not being provided. Instead, the Governor and other state officials are blaming the local government. 

Reeves also blocked legislation in 2020 allowing Jackson to forgive unpaid water bills, a problem impacting the impoverished residents of the city. While securing emergency federal funds for the state, Reeves has not said whether he will call a special session of the state legislature to consider aid for Jackson. Otherwise, it does not meet again until January 2023.

Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition -- Water Fund

The Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition (The Coalition) has released the following statement and urges all to join in supporting the people of Jackson as they organize for their rights:

"The Coalition led by the People's Advocacy Institute, the Mississippi Poor People's Campaign, Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, One Voice, MS, Alternate ROOTS, Mississippi Moves, Operation Good, Strong Arms of Mississippi and over thirty partner organizations, are working diligently to meet the clean water needs of the communities directly impacted by the deteriorating infrastructure in Jackson, Mississippi. 

"After more than five decades of neglect by the State, residents in older cities, like Jackson, have been forced to carry the financial burden of fragile infrastructure and have been exposed regularly to the health risks associated with the need for constant repair. In 2021, residents were under a boil water alert for at least 225 days. In 2022, boil water requirements continue to plague an already resource constrained population. These water woes not only impact the quality of life for Jackson's residents, they also impact Jackson's economy (schools, businesses, etc.), further strangling an already under-resourced city.

"The Coalition has a goal of raising a minimum of $2 million to provide clean water to residents. We know that these rapid response funds are only a fraction of what will be needed to fix the infrastructure problems in Jackson. A lasting and long-term solution requires that the State government provide the investments they have willfully neglected to provide. In the meantime, The Coalition, which is made up of over 30 Mississippi-based organizations, is providing water relief to reduce the harm.

"The Coalition is asking you to give -- and asking you to ask your friends and neighbours to give -- to help us reach our goal of $2 million dollars. Funds raised will be used to purchase water, transport water to households, purchase reusable water containers, water filters and other items needed during what is expected to be at least a year without safe water. If you prefer to donate items directly, please email rapidresponse@peoplesadvocacyinstitute.com."

For more information about the People's Advocacy Institute and the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition click here

The People's Advocacy Institute has also provided the following information:

For people interested in volunteering

Copy the following address into web browser for volunteer form:  Bit.ly/mrrcvolunteers

For more information text: 601.533.2445


Copy the following address into web browser to donate: Bit.ly/msresponsedonations

Water Donations

MS Rapid Response Coalition
C/O City of Jackson
Metro Center Mall
Dillards Loading Dock
3645 Hwy 80
Jackson, MS 39209

Contact Candace Abdul-Tawwab; candace@peoplesadvocacyinstitute.com, (240) 517-6623.

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 9 - September, 2022

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Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca