“Safe, sufficient, adequate, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation” is a human right according to the United Nations. But even in the United States and here in Wisconsin, many people are denied this right due to aging infrastructure, contaminated sources or economic circumstances. As with so many other social issues, the worst burdens fall on people of color, especially those in poverty. According to a 2019 report by the US Water Alliance, “0.3 percent of white households lack complete plumbing, as compared to 0.5 percent of African-American and Latinx households, and 5.8 percent of Native American households. That means that African-American and Latinx households are nearly twice as likely to lack complete plumbing than white households, and Native American households are 19 times more likely.” Combined with unhoused people, this adds up to more than 2 million Americans without access to safe water and sanitation.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to clean water for hand-washing is especially critical. Many states, including Wisconsin, temporarily banned utilities from shutting off water to people’s homes. This was a stop-gap measure that didn’t address the underlying issues of water affordability for millions of people. Many water utilities are working to find equitable solutions that ensure basic access for everyone, but there are many financial and legal challenges to be overcome. Our own Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is asking members to add their names to a petition to fund a solution. A link to the petition is here. Even as we strive to conserve and protect our water resources, let’s remember and help those among us who struggle just to get safe water in their homes.
If you have ideas to share or would like to write one of the weekly columns, please contact Earth Ministry committee chair, Rob Zimmerman.