One hallmark of life in a “developed” country is a secure supply of clean water. But America’s rural and urban landscapes are marred with dry patches. Activists went to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last week to shame the US government for forcing on its people a kind of thirst that smacks of festering poverty in the world’s richest society.
At an IACHR hearing on water rights, activists from different regions denounced the US government’s failure to provide clean, affordable water. While they cited crumbling sanitation systems and agricultural pollution, the fundamental crisis wasn’t simply scarcity, but institutionalized deprivation and massive social inequality from coast to coast.
The government, they declared, “systematically denies our human right to life by: allowing our communities to live with contaminated drinking water for decades; engaging in mass water shutoffs… and leaving us without adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.”
Edith Hood of the indigenous Red Water Pond Road Community in northwestern New Mexico recalled the day heavy industry descended on her pristine homeland in the 1960s. Suddenly, “the exploratory drillers came into our neighborhood making noise, lots of traffic, leaving dirty blue water and mud, our safe and supportive environment was turning upside down.” Soon the uranium boom that had led the drillers to her corner of the country had left the land riddled with mines and mills that would ultimately contaminate the groundwater supplies of millions. While uranium was “making some people rich at the expense of Mother Earth,” she said, local residents, herself included, were coopted into the mining workforce and got left with “mounds of waste piles” and toxic concentrations in their bodies.
The community now faces “an impossible choice” between safe land and safe water, she said. Although they could potentially move to avoid radiation exposure, due to a lack of federal investment, the designated relocation area would not have adequate water infrastructure.
Horacio Amezquita, an activist with the San Jerardo Community/ Environmental Justice Coalition on Water, recalled a parallel history of industrialized agriculture overtaking his Salinas Valley farming co-operative, housing 64 families, which was founded in the 1970s by Mexican farmworkers seeking to “escape the violent racism of the urban slums.”