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A Political Perspective on the Mississippi Water Crisis

All disasters have some form of political element to them.

When you look at disasters, their causes and how disaster response and recovery are handled, there is always some political element to them. Finger pointing is a common element in the post-disaster environment as people and parties, those with an ax to grind, try to make hay of the events of the day.

You might read much of that into what is written below. Truth be told, we already know that minority communities and economically disadvantaged ones are often most impacted by disasters because of where they live and the systemic lack of resources that they have been able to tap into. Look at the article below and judge for yourself where the truth of the matter might be. Each side will present their “evidence” to support their conclusions — which may be a defense or an attack on others. The truth is somewhere in the mix.

The fact that the Mississippi governor and mayor of Jackson are not appearing to work together and presenting a common front is a telling comment on the politics of this disaster.

From Politico, 9/1/22

CRISIS IN MISSISSIPPI — While Washington chews on headlines about President JOE BIDEN’s pre-midterm road blitz and former President DONALD TRUMP’s legal jeopardy, an American city of more than 150,000 people is struggling to deliver clean drinking water to its residents.

There’s no clear end in sight to the crisis in Jackson, Miss., which was sparked by record rainfall that flooded the Pearl River but is rooted in much more persistent issues of public disinvestment, political neglect and racial inequity. As with Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, as well as the water crisis in Flint, Mich., majority-Black communities are left bearing the brunt of the dysfunction — not just during a crisis, but for years before and after.

On Wednesday, Biden called Jackson Mayor CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA and offered help just hours after declaring a federal emergency, allowing agencies to surge resources into the stricken city.

Our Hannah Northey reports that officials have “pinned Jackson’s current water woes on a combination of flooding, shifting chemistry, long-standing infrastructure problems and staffing shortages, but they offered few details on when conditions would improve.”

Even before the flooding, the city was already under a boil-water notice after the state health department found issues in one of the city’s water treatment plants. And as Hannah puts it, “Jackson’s water system has repeatedly landed on the federal government’s radar, from fault-finding inspections to consent decrees and as a focus of the Biden administration’s environmental justice push.”

The situation has been compounded by apparent tensions between Lumumba, a Black Democrat, and the Mississippi state government headed by Gov. TATE REEVES, a white Republican. Each has held separate news conferences throughout the crisis, and Jackson’s city council president told CNN on Wednesday night that he wasn’t sure the two men had directly spoken. [Eric’s emphasis]

On the campaign trail, a spat erupted between Rep. MICHAEL GUEST , a white Republican who represents part of Jackson, and his Black Democratic challenger, SHUWASKI YOUNG, who noted on Twitter that Guest voted last year against the bipartisan infrastructure bill that included $55 billion for water systems. Guest, in turn, placed the blame squarely at the feet of local leaders, calling the crisis “another in a long list of issues that is a result of an ongoing stalemate at City Hall.”

ROBERT BULLARD, often called the “father of environmental justice,” told Playbook that the crisis is an example of how climate change and years of disinvestment in majority-Black communities can turn a bad situation into a disaster.

“That path of neglect oftentimes follows a pattern that emanates from racial redlining and a funding pattern that’s equivalent to apartheid,” said Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University. “You have biased planning, biased policies, biased funding that will result in a disparate impact … on populations that have contributed least to the climate crisis.”

The Biden administration is viewing the Jackson crisis as an opportunity to promote what it has already done — including the infrastructure bill, the climate funding in the recent Inflation Reduction Act, and the White House’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to funnel at least 40 percent of certain federal investments into disadvantaged communities.

The federal commitments stand to make a difference, said ERRICK SIMMONS, the mayor of Greenville, Miss. — another majority-Black city with significant infrastructure challenges. “I think what you see in Jackson is going to occur across the country,” he told Playbook. “But there is hope.”
Eric Holdeman is a nationally known emergency manager. He has worked in emergency management at the federal, state and local government levels. Today he serves as the Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR), which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). The focus for his work there is engaging the public and private sectors to work collaboratively on issues of common interest, regionally and cross jurisdictionally.