A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world.
“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this,” Philip Alston, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of AL.com earlier this week as they toured a community in Butler County where “raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.”
Our rural hospital closure crisis is not just a health crisis, but an economic one as well. In many rural communities, the relationship between the existence of a hospital and economic development is critical to the overall success of the community. When the only hospital in a county closes or doesn’t exist, it becomes nearly impossible to attract and maintain industry, jobs, and people. Public health is compromised. For example, a Tuberculosis outbreak has plagued the citizens of Perry County since 2014. The infection rate there is 100 times the national average and higher than rates in India, Kenya, and Haiti. Further, as we’ve seen in recent international news reports, the rates of hookworm in Lowndes County are appalling and shameful at 33 percent due in part to the inadequate wastewater infrastructure there.
Children playing feet away from open pools of raw sewage; drinking water pumped beside cracked pipes of untreated waste; human faeces flushed back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs whenever the rains come; people testing positive for hookworm, an intestinal parasite that thrives on extreme poverty.
These are the findings of a new study into endemic tropical diseases, not in places usually associated with them in the developing world of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but in a corner of the richest nation on earth: Alabama.