180,000 without running water in Mississippi after decades of gov’t failure

Jackson, Mississippi — a majority-Black city — is in a major crisis. A state of emergency was declared by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves after flooding from the Pearl River brought the city’s water system near collapse. Around 180,000 people are without safe drinking water indefinitely.

Schools are being moved online, many businesses are closing and stores are running out of water. People wait in long lines just for a single case of water. Since August 29, National Guard and grassroots organizations working with the city have been distributing water. But this aid is a drop in the bucket, far from meeting the need of the moment. At one water distribution site, the Hawkins Field Airport, people were turned away early as the 700 cases of water ran out. 

Photo: Steven Depolo. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Mississippi is not alone in its aged infrastructure: The problem of underfunded, crumbling, outdated, water infrastructure is nationwide and unaddressed. As a result, more than 60 million people in the United are exposed to unsafe drinking water. It is estimated that over $2.6 trillion would need to be allocated to fix surface transportation and underground infrastructure in the United States. Instead of attending to the nation’s decaying infrastructure, the federal government continues spending trillions of taxpayer money on wars abroad.

Who will pay for Jackson’s water system?

Jackson needs almost a billion dollars in sewer system repair to be in compliance with federal water quality laws and billions more to resolve the issue completely.

Governor Reeves has been very vague about what long-term plans he has for Jackson. Reeves released a statement on Twitter, saying, “We will cash flow the operation, and the city will be responsible for half the cost of the emergency improvements that we make.”

But how does Reeves expect Jackson’s water system to be fixed if the city foots half of the bill? The city’s projected total budget revenue is around $400 million for 2021-2022. The leaves the city to foot half a billion dollars or more — money that the city does not have. The solution that Reeves is proposing is that either the city — in reality the people of Jackson — will go into debt, or Jackson’s water system will remain underfunded and below basic functioning. 

This newest iteration of Mississippi’s water crisis and the government’s response at the state and federal levels shows that access to water is not a priority for those in power. This most basic human right is being denied to Jackson’s mostly Black residents. 

Jackson’s water crisis: decades in the making

On August 31, in an interview with Democracy Now, Jackson’s Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said of the crisis, “It’s not a matter of if our systems will fail, but a matter of when our systems will fail.”

Regularly, winter storms have caused Jackson’s water system to fail: in 1989, 1994, 2010 and 2014, and most recently in February 2021. Each time, the water system has only gotten temporary fixes and nowhere near the funding it needs to be fully repaired. Despite this, workers continue to be slapped with high water bills — sometimes ranging in the thousands of dollars.  

Just this summer, leading up to the school year, Jackson went through multiple consecutive boil water notices — a huge inconvenience to workers, students, parents and educators. When the Mississippi Association of Educators rallied for clean water the weekend before the Pearl River flooding, the city was on a boil water notice for the fourth week in a row.

Time and time again, Jackson has been denied the funding it needs to make the necessary repairs. Two bills that would have helped to fund Jackson’s infrastructure died in the state legislature. In 2020, Reeves himself vetoed legislation that would have helped residents with overdue water bills.

The federal government’s response to this crisis? Providing a mere $75 million for the whole of Mississippi’s infrastructure — a figure far off from the money Jackson needs to fully repair its water system.

In 2021, the Biden administration, with concession after concession to the Republican Party and the right-wing faction within the Democratic Party itself, got a $579 billion infrastructure bill to pass. This figure is a joke compared to what is needed to fix the collapsing infrastructure in the entire country.

Endless funding for war and police

Politicians and media pundits say there is no end in sight to this colossal problem, but the money and resources to fix the issue are readily available.

The decline of Jackson’s water system over three decades is part of a national trend of decreased funding for water infrastructure and maintenance in cities across the United States. Jackson’s residents fear becoming the “new Flint, Michigan.”

Four decades ago, federal funding accounted for 31% of city water spending. Now it is only 4%. As written previously on Liberation News, there are many sources of funding that could fix Jackson’s water system 10 times over. The fact is the U.S. government would rather bankroll war abroad and policing at home than provide that money for adequate water infrastructure. 

Over the last six months, $54 billion has gone to Ukraine. While Jackson has needed federal funding for decades — not only for its water infrastructure, but also for public education, health care and housing — Ukraine’s President Zelensky has only had to make a few Zoom calls to Congress to secure funding for weapons. 

For fiscal year 2022, the Biden administration requested $3.3 billion in foreign military financing for the apartheid state of Israel and $500 million more in missile defense aid. As endless war abroad is being fueled using preposterous amounts of money, there is no end in sight in the war on Jackson’s majority-Black residents. Recently, Biden also proudly announced the “Safer America Plan,” which would use $37 billion to hire and train 100,000 more cops to further expand the racist police state.

The water crisis in Mississippi is a shameful display of the capitalist government’s neglect and disregard for Black lives. In the wealthiest country in the world — hundreds of thousands of people are going without water for days. As the U.S. hypocritically polices the world on issues of human rights and democracy — let’s remember the unwillingness of its own political leadership to provide safe, clean water to its own population.

Only an organized people’s movement in the streets that will not allow the government to carry on with its business-as-usual, anti-people agenda can end Jackson’s water crisis once and for all.

To support disaster relief efforts, you can donate to these organizations on the ground:

  • Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition
  • Operation Good: $operationgoodms (cashapp)
  • Greater Allen Temple AME Church: $GATAMEC (cashapp)
  • Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity: @IAJEofMS (venmo), $IAJEofMS (cashapp), @IAJEofMS (PayPal)
  • MS Student Water Crisis Advocacy Team: $JxnWaterCrisis22 (cashapp)

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