Sunday, May 12, 2019

Flushed and Forgotten: New Report on Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the U.S.

A new report that documents the scope of the problem of lack of access to sanitation in rural US communities, frames the issue in human rights terms, and provides recommendations for federal, state, tribal, and local governments to strengthen responses to the sanitation crisis.  The report, Flushed and Forgotten:  Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the United States was written by the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.

A two pager on the report can be found here 

A brief summary of the report is below.  

Report Summary:

In the context of federal discussions on infrastructure spending, the report urges policymakers to focus on wastewater infrastructure needs. A recent study found that an estimated 1.5 million people live in homes without complete plumbing. Yet many existing sanitation systems are failing. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D+ grade for wastewater infrastructure.

The report zeroes in on the experience of rural communities in Alabama, Alaska, Appalachia, California, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, the Navajo Nation, North Carolina, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and Texas. 

 In highlights that in rural U.S. communities where poverty is prevalent, functioning and affordable sanitation systems can be out of reach. On-site wastewater systems are common, and law and policy place the burden of costly sanitation and wastewater solutions on those most in need--who are often least able to afford them. Failing and inadequate infrastructure reflect the fact that all too often these communities are forgotten, if not deliberately excluded from decision-making.

The report finds that  neglect and disregard for basic sanitation is a nation-wide problem that places an undue burden on individuals living in poverty, and disproportionately harms Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities.  It concludes that all levels of government share responsibility for monitoring and implementing human rights, and provides recommendations for federal, state, tribal, and local governments to foster equal access to affordable sanitation that is consistent with globally recognized human rights standards.

Flushed and Forgotten also details policy recommendations, and calls for increased resources, coordination, and monitoring, as well as an end to the criminalization and penalization of poverty.

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