Refugees: Peace of Mind

The Storm Refugees – Tribute To The Victims Of The Harvey Storm. Source: Daniel Arrhakis. Creative Commons.


“Armed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers,”

-Garca Machel, UNICEF

Global unrest and armed conflict are becoming more common, intense, and destructive. Today, wars are fought from apartment windows, in the streets of villages and suburbs, and where differences between soldiers and civilians immediately vanish. Present day warfare is frequently less a matter of war between opposing armies and soldiers than bloodshed between military and civilians in the same country.

In 2014, there were 42 armed conflict, resulting in 180,000 deaths worldwide. Civilian death tolls in wartime increased from 5 per cent at the turn of the century to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s. War and armed conflict is one of the most traumatic experiences any human can endure, and the brunt of this trauma is felt by civilians- most especially children.  In 2015 alone, some 75 million children were born into zones of active conflict. As of May 2016, one in every nine children is raised in an active zone of conflict. Two hundred and fifty million young people live in war zones, with the number refugees at its most prominent since World War II. Currently, there are 21.3 million refugees worldwide, and half of them children.

For refugees, the events leading up to relocation (notably war and persecution), the long and unsafe process of relocation, settlements in refugee camps, and overall disregard for human rights, takes a major emotional and mental toll. PTSD, depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorders are just few of many problems refugee children experience. Respecting human rights is essential to society’s overall mental health. Equally, a society’s mental health is essential for the enjoyment of basic human rights. Addressing the psychological needs of victims of armed conflict is essential for the prosperity of war-battered children’s future.

The Relationship between Mental Health and Human Rights
Armed conflict affects all aspects of childhood development – physical, mental, and emotional. Armed conflict destroys homes, fragments communities, and breaks down trust among people, thereby undermining the very foundations of most children’s lives. The psychological effects of loss, grief, violence, and fear a child experiences due to violence and human right violations must also be considered.

Throughout the process of becoming a refugees, the three main stages in which people experience traumatic and violent experiences include: 1) the country of origin, 2) the journey to safety, and 3) settlement in a host country. The interrelationship between human rights and mental health are recognized in various universal human right conventions and resolutions. Numerous legislative measures exists for mental health, but two main conventions that address the situations refugees experience include: 1) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and 2) The Convention on the Rights of a Child. These two conventions specially address mental health pertaining to violence.

UNHCR Tent. Source: Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Creative Commons.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: 1987
This Convention is significant towards the promotion of mental health as a human right because “torture,” any act that creates severe pain or suffering, can be both physical and mental. This convention is particularly relevant to refugees because they are more vulnerable and susceptible to mental and physical torture.  The short video documentary released by the UNHCR provided refugees and migrants to tell their own stories of kidnap and torture during their journeys to Europe. The stories told by survivors are emotionally distressing but highlights the realities refugees continuously experience.

The Convention on the Rights of a Child: 1990
The Convention on the Rights of a Child is the first legally binding international instrument to integrate the full array of human rights. This convention is also an important document for mental health. The CRC explicitly highlights the significance of both the physical and psychological wellbeing of a child. This convention is particularly important because it addresses the relationship of affect armed conflict on mental health. First, Article 38 of the Convention highlights state parties’ obligation under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, and shall “take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.” International humanitarian law is a set of rules which aim, for humanitarian purposes, to minimize and protect persons from the effects of armed conflict. Second, Article 39 of the Convention states “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect,… torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts.” For children refugees, the Convention on the Rights of a Child is an imperative document for the security of their right to mental health, and mental health services.

Barriers to Accessing Health Care Services
The process of becoming a refugee takes a tremendous emotional and mental toll on all refugees. PTSD, depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorders are just few psychological diagnoses given to refugee children. The fundamental right to mental health care is addressed in various international standards, such as the Convention of the Rights of the Child, however, there continues to be numerous barriers preventing access to these services. There has been an unparalleled surge in the number of refugees worldwide, the majority of which are placed in low‐income countries with restricted assets in mental health care. Currently, responsibility for mental health support to refugees is divided between a network of agencies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), government, and nonprofit organizations. Yet, the reality is that most refugees with mental health problems will never receive appropriate services. Cultural barriers, such as language, persistently affect a refugee’s capability to utilize mental health series. A study examining health care barriers of post-settlement refugees reveals language is the most impeding cultural barrier to accessing healthcare. Refugees and mental health service providers often do not speak the same language, making successful communication during healthcare visits less effective. Language barriers affect every level of the healthcare system, from making an appointment to filling a prescription. A lack of multilingual interpreters for refugees and health care providers weakens the healthcare system, making miscommunication about diagnoses and treatments possibilities common. Lastly, stigma surrounding mental health is another barrier to health services. Refugees often feel the words “mental health issues” should be reserved for individuals with extreme learning disabilities, and do not understand mental health problems can be conditions like depression and anxiety.

Psychopathologies due to trauma are very powerful, however, recovery is possible. In Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery, she discusses her theory of recovery. She states recovery happens in three stages: 1) establishment of safety, 2) remembrance and mourning, 3) re-connection with ordinary life.

Stage 1: Safety
Trauma diminishes the victims’ sense of control, power, and overall feeling of safety. The first stage of treatment focuses establishing a survivor’s sense of safety in their own bodies, with their relations with other people, in their environment, and even their emotions. Self-care is also an important focus point during this stage. The purpose of this stage is to get victims to believe they can take protect and take care of themselves, and they deserve to recover.

Stage 2: Remembrance and Mourning
The second stage of Herman’s recovery theory highlights the choice to confront trauma of the past rests within the trauma survivor. It’s important for victims to talk about their goals and dreams before the trauma happened so they can reestablish a sense of connection with the past.  That second stage begins by reconstructing the trauma beginning with a review of the victim’s life before the horrors and situations leading up to the trauma. This second step is to reconstruct the traumatic event as a recitation of fact. The goal of this step is to put the traumatic event into words, and come to terms with it. Testimonies are ways for survivors to get justice, feel acknowledged, and find their voice.

Stage 3: Reconnecting
In the final stage, the victim focuses on reconnecting with oneself and the recreation of an ideal self that visits old hopes and dreams. The third stage also focuses on emotionally and mentally reconnecting with other people and social reintergration. By this stage the victim should have the capacity to feel trust in others. A small but influential minority of individuals revolutionize the meaning of their trauma and tragedy, and make it the foundation for social change.

Peace. Source: John Flannery. Creative Commons.

A Peaceful Future 
Even though human rights activists are not psychological clinicians, we can still contribute to the success of these stages. At present, more than half of the refugee children population are children. Despite the violence these children have experienced, refugee children are the foundation and hope for a peaceful future. However, for that to happen, refugee children need to find peace in themselves. Respecting human rights is essential to society’s overall mental health. As activists we need to advocate for refuges and children who don’t have a voice. Activists for human and mental health rights should start focusing their goals on ensuring their communities and hospitals contain mental health care provisions. As activists, we can lobby for more accessible mental health services throughout our health care system, join and volunteer at non-profit organizations, and advocate for the rights of refugees. As Herman Melville states, “we cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”

 

How We’ve Failed Puerto Rico

In the aftermath of a horrifying hurricane season, Puerto Rico remains in a state of devastation. The contrast between the situation in Puerto Rico and that of post-Irma Florida or post-Harvey Texas is shocking. If those affected in Puerto Rico are American citizens, why have they been treated as second-class outsiders? Many may treat them as such because public knowledge on the citizenship of Puerto Ricans is severely lacking. A study conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University reported that less than half of respondents believed that Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth. Though people born in Puerto Rico are just as American as those in the states, U.S. has continually deprived Puerto Rico and its citizens of economic and political livelihood. The depth of the current devastation is just one symptom of a long history of abusing Puerto Rican human rights and economic wellbeing.  In this blog, we will investigate how these abuses came to be, why they still occur, and how we can change them.

The American flag, Puerto Rican flag, and Spanish flag are shown flying in front of a blue sky.
Spanish flag, PR flag, USA flag. Source: Oscar Rohena. Creative Commons.

“Is Puerto Rico Part Of Us?”

The title of this section is the first Google auto-completed search that pops up after typing, “is Puerto Rico?” When one considers the level of pride and patriotism that typically comes with being an American citizen, it seems shocking that so many are unaware of what comprises American citizenship. The answer to the question is yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a Commonwealth of the United States. Commonwealth status means that the island has local autonomy, though the ultimate source of governance is U.S. Congress. Puerto Rico has its own set of locally elected officials, including a bicameral legislature and a governor (the highest office available in Puerto Rico). The island also has its own constitution. Puerto Rico was not always American territory; the Spanish colonized the island for nearly four hundred years. The United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. The territory was acquired with the intention of using Puerto Rico as a market for excess goods and as a naval base; to this end, military rule was instituted once the U.S. gained control but shortly abandoned in 1900.  In 1917, Puerto Rican rights began to expand as federal law gave U.S. citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico. Per the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans serve in the military, are free to travel the United States, and use U.S. postal service. However, they are not allowed to vote in U.S. elections. The U.S. Congress has the power to veto or amend legislation passed by the local government, even though Puerto Ricans have no input in congressional elections. This disenfranchisement is both political and economic; nearly half of all residents of Puerto Rico live in poverty. The unemployment rate is nearly double the United States’. In addition to the level of economic crisis for individuals, Puerto Rico has accumulated seventy billion dollars of debt. To pay for this, the local government has chosen to close schools, cut health care and transportation budgets, and increase sales taxes. These policy decisions make it even more difficult for Puerto Ricans to obtain proper education and healthcare — both of which are human rights. Spanish colonization is partially responsible for allowing islanders to suffer from mass poverty while continually using the island to extract goods for the benefit of Spain. However, America did not act in its full capacity to bring prosperity to Puerto Rico, and has continued to exploit the island and its people.

 

Puerto Rican protesters hold a sign protesting government corruption.
El Pueblo Reclama. Source: Oscar Rohena. Creative Commons.

How is America Responsible?

Decades of political and economic marginalization has taken its toll. Over the years, the United States has treated Puerto Rico as “little more than a military base and an economic enclave.” Over 70% of net domestic income generated in Puerto Rico ends up leaving the island due to the economic structure instituted by the U.S. to extract surplus (Committee for Human Rights in Puerto Rico). This makes it impossible for families to generate and accumulate wealth. Puerto Rico as a whole is forced to spend huge amounts of money on incredibly high transportation costs due to maritime law. The law states that all commercial transport must be executed using United States transport—the most expensive transport system in the world. These costs ensure that the cost of Puerto Rican exported goods are substantially higher than they would otherwise be, making their products much less competitive in the international market. Additionally, the United States government is responsible for health crises through years of bombing and/or military testing. Viques, one of the islands within the Puerto Rican territory, reports residents having “increased rates of cancers, asthma, diabetes, heart abnormalities, hypertension, skin conditions, and birth defects” (Collado). To make this issue even worse, the island suffers from widespread inaccessibility to healthcare. Even if residents had the money to afford medical care, there is an incredible shortage of medical professionals; doctors leave the island for a more prosperous future at a rate of one per day. Not only do these circumstances violate Puerto Rican citizens’ human right to an adequate standard of living (UDHR Article 25), but this also makes it much more difficult for affected citizens to participate economically, socially, and politically. All of these compounding factors – economic marginalization, environmental destruction, political disenfranchisement – have created a perfect storm that makes Puerto Rico more vulnerable than ever. Hurricane Maria was able to decimate the island because of the actions of the United States – the economic structure and historical exploitation made Puerto Rico unable to maintain basic infrastructure that would protect them from hurricane damage or allow them to rebuild. This is why the historical legacy of American actions towards Puerto Rico matter, and why our current administration’s dismissal of Puerto Rican suffering is such a critical issue. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is not a one-time occurrence.  Puerto Rico has been repeatedly struck by natural and manmade disasters that have impeded its progress, and many of these are caused or exacerbated by the U.S. The United States has failed miserably in protecting the rights of American citizens of Puerto Rico. We, as fellow Americans, should be held responsible in upholding those rights.

 

Three people hold signs at a protest supporting Puerto Rico.
4N3A5376. Source: Working Families Party, Creative Commons.

What Can We Do?

As always, we first must investigate our own perceptions of Puerto Rico as well as our peers’. If nearly half of Americans do not know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, it is entirely possible that many people you know may believe similarly. Though human rights should be protected regardless of citizenship, America often influences the global standard of action. We, as Americans, have a duty to protect our fellow citizens from human rights abuses before we can take a wider lens in our international scope. To address current issues of disaster relief, the Unidos por Puerto Rico fund allows individuals to send money directly to relief efforts. In the long term, it is essential to start raising expectations for Puerto Rico as well as expectations of how America interacts with the island. Our current administration claims that Puerto Rico’s financial crisis and poor infrastructure are issues “largely of their own making.” This is flatly untrue. While from the outside it may seem that Puerto Rico has created its own dire situation, the most damaging factors would have never been in play without the role of the United States. To ensure proper education and healthcare are provided to the 3.4 million American citizens on the island, Puerto Rico no longer needs to be viewed as an outside entity responsible for solving its own problems. There are multiple ways to solve this. One may be addressing the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. The most recent referendum on Puerto Rican statehood found that 97% of voters wanted to obtain statehood. However, this has no significant impact on the decisions of Congress, because legislators have no direct accountability to Puerto Rico. Therefore, American citizens who have power over their legislators through their constituency must make their voices heard in order to protect our voiceless counterparts in Puerto Rico.

 

The Long-Term Risks of Depleted Uranium Outweigh Military Necessity for the Weaponry

 

30mm-DU-penetrator. source: wikemedia creative commons

The public knowledge about the U.S. military deployment of nearly 10,000 depleted uranium rounds (DU) in 2003 from jets and tanks remains virtually unknown. There is an estimation that the US fired 300,000 rounds during the first Gulf War conflict in 1991, without releasing knowledge or evidence of testing to inform of potential health hazards of new munitions. The only mistake deadlier than firing this overabundance of DU weaponry is the denial of it, and failing to acknowledge the hazards posed to civilians. American and British occupation forces have forbidden the release of statistics related to civilian casualties after the occupation of Iraq. Additionally, they refused to clean up contaminated areas, and deny international agencies and Iraqi researchers the right to conduct full DU related exploration programs.

Despite American and British disclosure that they used around 400 tonnes of DU munitions in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the United Nations Environment Program believes that the total may be nearer 1000 tonnes. Persistent and consistent reports from medical staff across Iraq have associated this legacy from the conflict with increased rates of certain cancers and congenital birth defects. The extent to which DU may be associated with these health problems is still unclear as the conditions since 2003 have not been conducive to studying civilian exposure and health outcomes. When looking at some of the major battles that took place during the operations in Najaf, Basrah, Al Samawa, Karbala and Nasiriyah, involving platforms armed with DU, Dutch Peace Corps PAX has established with certainty that DU was used in populated areas and against armored and non-armored targets.

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) campaign to eradicate DU stockpiles within countries who purchased DU munitions and DU capable weaponry, define and clarify DU and its potential risks to civilians and military personnel:

Depleted uranium (DU) is a toxic heavy metal and the main by-product of uranium enrichment. It is the substance left over when most of the highly radioactive isotopes of uranium are removed for use as nuclear fuel or for nuclear weapons. DU possesses the same chemical toxicity properties as uranium, although its radiological toxicity is less. Due to its high density, which is about twice that of lead, DU has been used in munitions designed to penetrate armor plate. It can also be used to reinforce military vehicles, such as tanks. Munitions containing DU explode upon impact and release uranium oxide dust.”

The radiological toxicity of DU is less than uranium so the concern for human exposure should be uranium oxide dust. Keith Baverstock explains what happens when DU oxides, “When uranium weapons explode, their massive blasts produce gray or black clouds of uranium oxide dust particles. These float for miles, people breathe them, and the dust lodges in their lungs.” In other words, the lung is most susceptible to DU and in the topographical context of Iraq, where much of the country is defined by flat desert, winds blowing DU particles along with the dust is particularly dangerous. Winds may blow particles from combat sites into civilian inhabited areas, contaminating water and people. Even if only a small demographic of civilians is contaminated in a particular area, the half-life of a DU particle lodged inside alveoli is 3.85 years; emitting radiation directly to the tissue.

DU debris left behind in destroyed tanks of buildings poses a threat towards peacekeepers, civilians, and military personnel years after the conflict has ended. Many abandoned vehicles still litter the Iraqi countryside as silent reminders of the invasions within towns, villages, and cities. These carcasses are fun locations for kids to play in; and civilians come close to these contaminated objects daily in order to get to work, retrieve water and many other simple daily activities. These tanks are sometimes towed away towards scrapping sites without proper decontamination procedures, leading to further potential hazards when the metal is stripped and used for the construction of manufacturing goods.

Pregnant women and their offspring are particularly susceptible to DU toxicity as an unborn within the embryo of a mother rapidly produces new cells, providing the perfect environment for genetic defects. As certain small uranium particles are soluble in the human lungs, they enter the bloodstream through the lungs, pass through the lymph nodes and other parts of the body before excreted in urine. Uranium accumulates in bones, irradiating the bone marrow, potentially inducing leukemia, while building up in organs causing the breakdown of certain biological faculties as well as developing cancers.

The U.S. military and WHO have conducted research in Iraq to determine how malignant DU is and what sort of dangers it poses to civilians. Their conclusions determined that the potential toxic hazard is far too low to warrant cleanup action. These claims come in direct confrontation with independent studies performed by PAX conducted thorough studies within laboratories and fieldwork in contaminated locations where DU was fired; their findings determined sites and recovered physical DU evidence that proved contrary to American studies.

A New Breed of Munitions

“It is a superior weapon, superior armor. It is a munition that we will continue to use if the need is there to attack armor.” Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, US Department of Defense.”

Conflict is often the mother of invention. Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaigns toward the Kurdish people of northern Iraq in 1991 lead to the largest coalition of nations. Both Gulf wars produced horrific weaponry on a scale not seen since WW2, capable of precipitating public health and human rights violations years after deployment. The US Department of Defense, in 2003, praised a new breed of munition first deployed in Iraq–the depleted uranium round. These weapons hailed for their tank and bunker busting abilities; 68% denser than lead and upon impact, known to spontaneously combust leaving charred remains of the unfortunate targets. Armor plating on tanks and other armored combat vehicles use DU.

The advantages of DU munitions are clear, and key countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, China, Russia, and Pakistan produce and stockpile them. Many more former Soviet satellite states currently possess tanks in their arsenal capable of utilizing DU; however, it is unknown whether DU is a component of their arsenal is unknown. Many governments, including the European Parliament and Latin American parliament, started passing legislation banning radioactive weaponry from purchase, production, or use. The Kingdom of the Netherland is a key player in bringing transparency on the issue of depleted uranium. Organizations and individuals such as the Dutch peace corps, PAX, and the committee’s chair, British MEP Struan Stevenson of the conservative ECR group stated that there was a “demonstrable case for a strong and robust resolution calling on member states like the United Kingdom and France to stop using DU”. Led by Stevenson, a group of MEPs from across both Europe and the political spectrum have also submitted questions to the EU’s foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton to ask what the European Commission has been doing to encourage the development of a common position on DU within the EU. They also call on the EU to demonstrate leadership on the DU issue. The questions remained unanswered at the time of writing, although pressure to reach consensus is rising with the new reports of spiking cancer rates and birth defects around Iraq.

The Deformed Babies of Fallujah, Iraq

The U.S. military supported by British forces, set the city of Fallujah as the stage of incredibly intense urban warfare in 2004, with intentions of deposing opposition forces within the city. The second occurrence of military operations in November and December 2004 dubbed ‘Phantom Fury’: the most brutal operation since the official end of major combat operations in 2003. The aftermath left in Fallujah was astonishing with 60% of buildings destroyed or damaged, and the population of the city at 30%-50% of pre-war levels. The physical damage the city has sustained is not what is most disturbing.

Since 2009, credible media reports from Fallujah released reports of high rates of congenital birth defects in the city to the world’s attention. Iraqi medical personnel acknowledge the health risks of DU despite the lack of a direct link between DU and rising birth defects in Fallujah. Doctors have called for further follow up research on DU and cancer patients in Iraq. The U.S. has denied usage of DU rounds in Operation Phantom Fury while they maintained the claim that no records had been kept since 2004. However, in 2005, two DU-contaminated tanks found within Fallujah, possibly destroyed by A-10 thunderbolts according to an interview with an expert from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Baghdad. Two other DU capable platforms utilized during the combat of Phantom Fury–the Abrams tank and the Bradley armored fighting vehicle (AFV).

Moving to Secure a Healthier Future

PAX estimates that there are more than 300 sites in Iraq contaminated by DU, which will cost at least $30m to clean up. Iraqi authorities are hard pressed to mobilize an effective cleanup effort and the calls for contamination containment in Fallujah have not been properly answered by the Iraqi government. Sampled hair from women with malformed babies in Fallujah tested positive for enriched uranium. The damage inflicted upon genetic code is proving to develop tremendous strain on the population of Falluja both mentally and physically as generations to come may be thinned out by fatal birth defects.

Due their economic superiority and contribution of deploying DU, the US and Great Britain should step forward with the funds and equipment necessary to conduct long-term research and contamination containment alongside Iraqi medical personnel. The ethical issues of toxic weaponry are clear. Militaries should discontinue the usage of DU weaponry or stockpiling under the notion that the usefulness of these weapons outweigh the potential harm caused to civilians. Human rights, specifically that right to life and safe environment, should take precedence over military needs. Children dying after only a few weeks after birth due to a country’s military actions years ago is a blatant breach of UDHR Article 3: Right to life, liberty, and security of person.

The issue of DU is not confined to DU alone. It also resonates within a broader spectrum of illegal weapon usage like gasses, weapons of mass destruction etc. Awareness of the suffering of those in Iraq is necessary so we, as an international community, may mold the peaceful and just world we envision.

 

The Right to Menstrual Hygiene

a picture of three girls smiling
Jordanian School Girls. Source: David Stanley, Creative Commons

It probably goes without saying that periods are difficult to manage. They are painful, expensive, and often quite problematic for people who experience them.  We use resources such as pads, tampons, pain relievers, and bathrooms in an effort to manage menstruation. According to the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring System, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is when people with periods are able to use sanitary materials to absorb menstrual blood, change and dispose of these materials in privacy as needed, and have access to soap and water to keep clean.  For those of us who do have access to what we need to manage menstruation, it seems that we often take these things for granted. But what if someone doesn’t have these resources within reach? The bottom line is that a lack in opportunity to practice proper menstrual hygiene is a violation of human rights due to its negative impact on mental and physical health, access to education, and gender equality.

What Is the Problem?

The aspect of this issue that might be the easiest to recognize is the inaccessibility of products like sanitary pads and tampons. One study in Kaduna State, Nigeria reported that only 37% of women in their sample had all the products needed for proper menstruation management. In Uganda, 35% of women reported the same thing. This can partly be attributed to financial issues and the frequency at which the products must be purchased. Some products, such as menstrual cups or washable pads, can be washed and reused over an extended period of time, making them cheaper in the long run. However, they are initially far more expensive than the disposable options. They are simply outside of the budget for many people. Even when someone can afford to pay for the reusable materials, finding somewhere to purchase them may be a problem.

Issues of accessibility do not end with menstrual hygiene products. In many countries, schools lack proper sanitation facilities, like bathrooms, which are vital to being able to safely and comfortably replace and dispose of used menstrual products. This is seen in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where there is an average of 1.2 “toilets” per primary school. These “toilets” are actually pit latrines. They are not usually kept in good condition and rarely have sufficient waste disposal options. In situations like this, there is little to no access to a truly safe and private place to change menstrual materials.

a picture of a traditional pit latrine, which looks like a very small building with a tin roof and two tin doors
Traditional Pit Latrine. Source: SuSanA Secretariat, Creative Commons

Exacerbating this issue are the stigma and shame associated with menstruation. Around the world, girls are taught from a young age that having a period is something to hide and to be embarrassed of. In many countries, girls are even considered to be “dirty” when on their period. This can be seen in western Nepal, where there is a tradition called “chaupadi” which requires that girls and women stay outside throughout menstruation. If they enter a home, it is believed that all of the people and animals of the household will fall ill. This perspective puts both their mental and physical health at risk. Menstruation is frequently viewed as a taboo subject, so many girls are not taught anything about it before their first period. Even after they begin to experience menstruation, they do not have access to much knowledge of why it happens or what good menstrual hygiene management is.

It is also important to recognize the relationship between menstrual hygiene management and the transgender community. Menstruation is typically referred to as a strictly feminine issue, but that is simply not the case. Many transgender men and non-binary individuals experience periods, and they should be included in the conversation about menstruation. By failing to recognize their connection to menstruation, we fail to recognize the validity of their experiences and identities. This failure is a problem within itself, but it can also have repercussions on the mental health of transgender and non-binary individuals and their ability to access sanitary materials and bathrooms for menstrual hygiene management. We need to actively work towards being more inclusive with the language we use when discussion periods and related topics. This involves choosing gender neutral terms over gendered terms, such as choosing to say “menstrual hygiene products” rather than “feminine hygiene products”.

Why Does It Matter?

According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual has “a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” of themselves. When you are told that one of the basic biological processes that you experience and cannot control is shameful, it has the potential to lower the value that you see in yourself. Combined with the common lack in understanding of menstruation, this can lead to significant amounts of fear and confusion and have a considerable negative impact on mental health. Article 26 dictates that everyone has a right to education. Without access to clean menstrual management products or places to change and dispose of used ones, many girls around the world miss school during menstruation to try to keep it hidden. Some girls do not even have the option to go to school during that time. This creates a disparity between the educational and career opportunities of men and women, violating Article 2 of the declaration, which says that everyone is entitled to their rights without discrimination based on distinctions like one’s sex. It is unacceptable to allow limitations to be placed on individuals’ access to their human rights based on something that is uncontrollable. In order for things to change, individuals must take action.

What Can We Do?

Part of the reason why access to menstrual management products is such a difficult issue to deal with is that the majority of people are not comfortable talking about it. Even in the United States, where we generally have access to education about the most basic aspects of menstruation and know that it is normal and healthy, there seems to be some sort of collective, irrational fear surrounding the topic. Periods have a direct impact on half of the world’s population and an indirect impact on all of the population. We cannot continue trying to pretend that the obstructions of human rights that are caused by poor menstrual hygiene management do not exist. Conversations about menstruation might be uncomfortable at first, but they are absolutely necessary. uncomfortable at first, but they are absolutely necessary.

Many organizations have begun working towards improving MHM worldwide. AFRIpads, for example, works to provide menstrual kits with reusable sanitary pads and storage bags to women and girls throughout Africa, while creating job opportunities within the organization for women in Uganda. They also collaborate with Lunapads in a program called One4Her. For each eligible product that is purchased from Lunapads, an AFRIpad is donated to a student in need. On UAB’s campus, we have access to a chapter of Period: The Menstrual Movement, an organization that is dedicated to improving access to menstrual hygiene products for homeless women in the United States. If you are interested in taking action, the group is currently hosting a donation drive for pads and tampons through October 31. You can find donation boxes by the elevators in any of the residence halls. They are also hosting a Period Packaging event at the Spencer’s Honors House from 6:30pm to 8:30pm on November 1, where people will come together and pack menstrual hygiene products in kits to be given to those in need. Additionally, the Blazer Kitchen is hosting a toiletry drive through October 30, to which you can donate menstrual hygiene products, as well as many other non-perishable items.

If you lack the resources to financially support the improvement of MHM, do not be afraid to speak up and get involved in the conversation. Be a part of spreading awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding periods.

 

Paying Homage: Dignity Despite Difference

A memorial plaque for Dr. Charles R. Drew
Dr. Charles Richard Drew. Source: David, Creative Commons.

Prentice Baptiste asserted in 1970 “Knowledge is socially distributed, what you know is what you have been allowed to know”. This holds true today.  The human right to an education, though purportedly universal, has been applied in a culturally-specific manner, and oftentimes to the detriment of marginalized populations such as African-Americans (United Nations, 1976).  Dr. Charles Drew is one of many whose profound contributions to the world could very well have been derailed if he were not afforded an opportunity to pursue advanced studies.  Some argue opportunity is the test of a person’s mettle.  I argue opportunity can be unfairly doled out to those in power.  Dr. Drew persevered however, despite a structural bias against black students and the willful omissions of black scientists in history books and academia-at-large, including the very institution he so greatly benefited: the American medical complex.

The contributions of black scientists have, historically, been glossed over or explained by grievously inaccurate idioms such as “right place, right time” (Baptiste & Boyer, 2000).  Researchers and advocates for human rights walk a fine line when memorializing contributions of all marginalized persons- including Dr. Charles R. Drew. On one hand, the challenges and struggles of these individuals must be contextualized (i.e. drawing upon the unique historical and sociocultural challenges resulting from their marginalizing status) to pay proper homage to both the brilliance of these individuals’ contributions and structural difficulties they faced. On the other hand, we must not indulge in “inspiration porn”, thereby overemphasizing marginalization status over these individuals’ work and benefit to society. With this conceptual framework in mind, this blog has two aims: 1) to provide a historical account of the life and work of Dr. Charles R. Drew and 2) contextualize the narrative of Dr. Drew through the lens of the ongoing struggle for equal human rights in America.

The Life of Dr. Charles R. Drew

Imagine for a moment being a teenager again.  Some of us were pimply and awkward.  Some were voted prom king or queen.  Some teenagers hated school, while some earned straight A’s.  What did you want to be when you were a teenager?  A writer?  An athlete?  Charles Drew of Foggy Bottom, Washington DC, in his final year of high school, meekly wrote in his senior yearbook: “I want to be an electrical engineer”.  Just as the future Dr. Charles R. Drew was no ordinary doctor, his extraordinary achievements began even in high school (US National Library of Medicine, 2017). After high school, Charles Drew attended Amherst University on an athletic scholarship, where he was an average student but an exceptional football player. At Amherst, he (not originally interested in the sciences) experienced two major losses: a severe hospitalization following a football injury and the death of his sister from tuberculosis prompting an interest in biology and medicine- an interest that compelled him to apply to medical school (US National Library of Medicine, 2017).

The majority of Black Americans were rarely afforded the opportunity to attend prestigious training programs in higher education during the 1920s and 1930s, although some schools did allow a handful of ‘colored’ students every year (US Library of Medicine, 2017).  When Drew graduated from university, he was accepted to Harvard Medical School with the stipulation he defer his admission by one year.  Drew refused.  He attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec Canada, beginning a path that would land his name and accomplishments in medical history books internationally (US Library of Medicine, 2017).  At McGill and throughout his residency at Montreal General Hospital, he began research on fluid replacement in the human body.  He then went on to study transfusion at Columbia University, one of the best medical institutions in the United States, and in 1940, Dr. Drew became the first African-American to earn a doctoral degree in medical science from Columbia (US Library of Medicine, 2017).  Without reference to the sociocultural and historical experiences of Black Americans in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Dr. Drew’s attempts to enroll and successfully complete medical programs appear to reflect the struggle of any student wishing to break into higher education. Applying the conceptual framework of his marginalizing status (of African descent) plus the inherent and structural bias against black students and professionals, his accomplishments gain more depth. Drew not only overachieved scholastically (a difficult feat for anyone embarking on higher education), but he also successfully moved through a structure bent on forcing him out of the academy in the first place- the ingrained racism festering in all most aspects of American culture.

A mobile blood bank.
Publicity2. Source: Shuyun, Creative Commons.

His Medical Legacy

Dr. Drew perfected the science of collecting, storing, and mobilizing blood donations (US National Library of Medicine, 2017).  In 1940, he and his collaborators standardized these procedures, and this method soon became a critically necessary tool for the Red Cross during America’s involvement in World War II (US National Library of Medicine, 2017).  As a leading expert in blood banking, he created “bloodmobiles” (mobile blood donation stations) and significantly helped America and its allies in the world war treat wounded soldiers and civilians on the battlefront (Gugliemo, 2010).  Of tragic irony, Dr. Drew himself was unable to donate blood due to the fact he was of African descent.  It is a testament to his character, both as a scientist and as a man, that Drew funneled his intellect and humanitarian spirit into a system that still viewed him as a second-class citizen.

Dr. Drew understood this injustice and the similar injustices of other race-based medical policies in the United States during the Jim Crow era.  During the war, Drew practiced what some may consider nonviolent resistance of these policies. Historians of Drew and other medical professionals suspect these professionals would at times mislabel blood collection samples, thereby ensuring blood donated by black Americans reached the Red Cross and the injured people in need. Blood donations at this time (1940s) were required to be segregated along racial lines; ‘white’ blood could suit any medical needs while ‘colored’ blood was only allowed in ‘lesser’ facilities (local hospitals and the like; Guglielmo, 2010).  While giving a speech to workers’ union in 1944, he proclaimed “the source of plasma was disregarded by physical and medical corpsmen on the front lines”, meaning ‘colored’ blood was being used in the exact same capacity to save lives as white blood (Guglielmo, 2010).  These segregation plans imposed by the US were selectively followed, and others Drew worked with asserted “… these segregation plans were [not] carried through in in detail from beginning to end” (Guglielmo, 2010).

His Greatest Achievement

Drew’s accomplishments as a medical researcher, yes, are profound. However, a more interesting and little-known part of his story may outweigh his hematological inventions.  As previously stated, when Drew attempted to begin his medical training, he faced institutional discrimination from the American higher education academy. Throughout his time as a researcher, he was not able to donate blood due to racist and discriminatory laws. His career, at every turn, was affected and slowed by systematic racism permeating throughout both the American academy and American medical industrial complex. However, these inequalities did not stop Dr. Drew and likely compelled him to use his stature in the medical profession to train and empower young African-American men and women hoping to study medicine.  Until his untimely death in 1950, Dr. Charles R. Drew served as a mentor to young African-American doctors during his tenure as Chair of Department of Surgery at Howard University School of Medicine (Cornely, 1950). While the annals of history and medicine will likely remember him as the father of the bloodbank, the young black doctors he meticulously trained very well owe their intellectual lineage to Dr. Drew’s ferocity in achieving his dreams and a stark unwillingness to allow the same plight to slow those who came after him.  It was not enough that Dr. Drew created a life-saving medical procedure for which the world will forever be indebted, but he also took it upon himself to train future black doctors.  If we examine the ripples created from the life and work of Dr. Drew, we find academic prowess and personal resilience throughout his life. He is academically and medically renowned for his revolutionary paradigm of blood collection and storage- the first ripple. His students, mentees, and contemporaries revere him for his personal investment in the professional accomplishments of his students at Howard University- the second ripple. Finally, Drew is one of many marginalized individuals who successfully navigated a system attempting at every turn to inconvenience or diminish his work. Marginalized persons, of any marginalization status, possess the faculties to dismantle and undermine the antagonistic systems around them, such as the American academic and medical field was to Dr. Drew. Our goal as human rights advocates must be the empowerment of these persons, without indulging in ‘inspiration porn’ or glorifying marginalization status at the expense of losing sight of the actual person. The person, in this case Dr. Drew, must remain the central focus of historical accounts such as these. To overemphasize minority or marginalization statuses is to do a disservice to both the individual and to the very philosophy of human rights: dignity despite difference.

References

Baptiste, H. P. (1970). A black educator’s view: The pseudo-sacrosanct role of intelligence in education.  Notre Dame Journal of Education, 1(2).

Baptiste, H. P. & Boyer, J. B. (2000). African American males and the scientific endeavor. Journal of African American Men, 4(4), 49-61.

Cornely, P. B. (1950). Charles R. Drew (1904-1950): An appreciation. Phylon, 11(2), 176-177.

Guglielmo, T. A. (2010). “Red Cross, double cross”: Race and America’s World War II-era blood donor service. The Journal of American History, 97(1), 63-90.

Haber, L. (1970). The Afro-American scientist- Why don’t we know him. The Science Teacher, 37(5), 46-48.

Janken, K. R. (1996). A legendary death, a legendary divide. Reviews in American History, 24(4), 657-662.

United Nations (1976).  International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

US National Library of Medicine (2017). The Charles R. Drew Papers. Online. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/BG/p-nid/336

Reframing Intimate Partner Violence: Human Rights in the Home

co-authored by Lindsey Reid, Ajanet Rountree, Nicholas Sherwood, and Nora Hood

a beautiful house on a hill
house. Source: oatsy40, Creative Commons

Domestic violence, domestic abuse, domestic terrorism, intimate partner violence (IPV)—all refer to abusive patterns of behavior within the context of relationship. While a universal definition has not been agreed upon, this blog operationally defines IPV as “causing or attempting to cause physical or mental harm to a household member or engaging in activity toward a family or household member that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.” In other words, IPV transpires when an individual exerts abusive control over another, resulting in a pattern of physical and/or psychological pain. Due to the extensiveness of IPV, we concur with the CDC assessment that IPV is a public health and a human rights issue, as stated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. While we tend to think repressive governments or other sinister forces violate human rights, survivors of IPV experience and endure human rights violations within their home. With this blog, we aim to raise awareness of your rights in a relationship.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

The vagueness of the term “IPV” makes recognizing and combatting this human rights violation difficult; as is the case with any vague definition in the human rights literature. One thorny issue in particular is the oftentimes (over)emphasis of the physical elements of IPV. To be completely clear: IPV, or any form of relational abuse or neglect, refers to physical and psychological maltreatment of an individual. Just because there are no physical scars does not mean it is not abuse. Psychological IPV includes behaviors such as: creating psychological isolation, sexual abuse (unwanted sexual contact, inhibiting access to birth control, unwanted sexual comments, and pressuring or threatening someone into sex), economic abuse (taking actions in order to maintain total control of the household’s finances), and digital abuse (using technology to control, stalk, or manipulate the survivor). This list is neither complete nor comprehensive; IPV as a human rights violation can take many, many forms.

Who are the victims and survivors of IPV? The classical answer is a wife or husband with a marriage; this is why the original term to describe IPV was ‘domestic abuse’ (implying this crime occurs within a domestic setting). The new term of IPV expands that outlook to include unmarried partners, as well as any form of relationship with emotional closeness and proximity. IPV can happen between married partners, and IPV can happen on a first date.

The Changing Demographics of IPV

As ‘battered wife syndrome’ has fallen out of favor, the IPV has been shaped and expanded to include male, female, and child survivors and perpetrators alike. While majority of IPV perpetrators are male, human rights advocates and laypersons alike must recognize perpetrators come in all genders and ages. In previous decades, cultural stigma against male victims may have pressured men from speaking out against their abusers; therefore, the actual gender breakdown of this crime remains unknown.

Male and female perpetrators themselves utilize markedly different forms of violence, which may compound efforts to qualify and deconstruct the gender breakdown of IPV. Machado et al. studied Portuguese men and discovered a pattern among their female perpetrators: “self-partner aggression”. They characterize self-partner aggression as the occurrence where the female injures herself in some way and then claims to be a victim of domestic violence to the police. She (the perp) takes advantage of confirmation bias, recognizing society generally believes that the male partner is abusing his female partner as it confirms gender stereotypes and social norms. Female abusers may also be more likely to use weapons or other objects to cause harm. One study involved a sample of 2,760 victims using the National Crime Victimization Survey from 1987 to 2003 found that 6% of the male victims had been stabbed with a knife, while 1% of the female victims had. Additionally, they found 10% of the male victims had been hit by an object that was thrown by their abuser, while 3% of the female victims had. However, male victims were less frequently found to have experienced violence through direct contact such as grabbing or pulling, with 20% of them having experienced it, while 53% of the females had.

Finally, IPV is not limited to adult perpetrators. Children can exhibit abusive behavior towards anyone in the household, whether another child or an adult. The normative assumption is parents possess the power in the home when compared to children, so it is difficult to imagine children as abusive. Control is the motivation for domestic violence and abuse; therefore, it is necessary that we pay attention when children perform violent actions, avoid brushing them off as merely “bad kids” because the behavior and consequences may have a serious impact on the present and future. Children exhibiting abusive behavior, if unchecked and untreated, may later show further signs of psychological deviance or disorder.

a picture of a boy with 'stupid' written across his forehead
Stupid IV. Source: Laura Lewis, Creative Commons

Controlling to Death

Social researchers have long sought to understand the motives of IPV perpetrators in order to predict violent behavior patterns. By predicting situations of relational violence, social researchers can empower advocates, policy-makers, and survivors themselves prevent occurrences of IPV. Several conceptual frameworks of IPV exist, including the stress-diathesis model, feminist / gender studies theories, and a pathological need for psychological control.

The stress-diathesis model suggests abusive behavior results from high psychosocial stress on the perpetrator. As the stress load increases, the perpetrator takes his or her frustration out on a less-threatening target (the victim). In this model, attempts to mitigate or prevent IPV focus on the perpetrator eliminating or healthily dealing with stressors. This theory has fallen out of favor, as its deterministic view of patterns of abuse at times ‘excuse’ perpetrators for their behavior. However, these theorists take a biopsychological approach to understanding behavior, which indeed aids in painting a holistic portrait of motivations and emotions in general.

By contrast, feminist and gender-studies theories focus on the broad sociocultural factors compelling IPV in perpetrators. Exploring the notion of male dominance in interpersonal relationships, Ornstein and Rickne sampled 714 post-separated and divorced couples in Sweden in 2001. They suggest separation between partners triggers a loss of control (especially for the male partner), weakening his domination of the situation, thus increasing the escalations of violence in the relationship. Violence reported by the respondents showed high variance, including verbal abuse (i.e. name-calling and cursing) psychological abuse resultant from emotional vulnerability of the perpetrator (i.e. feelings of inferiority), and finally physical abuse (including stalking and physical / sexual assault). Overall, feminist and gender-focused theories explore how fundamental issues of identity (such as gender) influences the occurrence of IPV.

Finally, the “control” theory of IPV posits an unhealthy need for psychological control, regardless of gender, is the most significant factor predicting IPV. This theory formulates relational abuse is symptom of a person’s subjective feeling of lack of control in a situation. Violence is therefore the means to an end, with the ‘end’ being feelings of control. Controlling behavior can take many forms, including stalking. The National Council commission in Sweden issued a 2006 report of 4000 surveys that found 362 (3/4 of whom are women) responded to questions of stalking in their lifetime, with 3% in the previous year. In 2011, the establishment of Swedish stalking law brought a four-year prison sentence for those found guilty. It is imperative to note justice systems, regardless of locale, treat the symptoms of violence but not the roots.

a picture of a girl with bruises on her back
Domestic Violence. Source: CMY Kane, Creative Commons.

Regardless of the underlying causes (such as stress, gender roles, or a need for control), each case of IPV is unique and complicated. Recognizing signs of an abusive relationship is the first step and often difficult for the survivor to admit. Leaving the relationship itself is a whole other ordeal. Ornstein and Rickne affirm Kit Gruelle, a victim advocate in North Carolina (NC), who insists battered women are the experts on their relationships- no one knows more about IPV than someone who has gone through it. Gruelle suggests there is a noticeable pattern in abusive relationships—the couple has good days and bad days, just like every other couple. However, the ‘normalcy’ of the good days in no way makes up for the deviance of the bad days. Perpetrators often wear a façade of kindness and normalcy in mixed company, which makes spotting these perpetrators even more difficult.

Deanna remained married to her husband, Robbie, for nine years. She returned to him three times over the course of the years despite police knowledge of threats and violent tendencies. ‘The police knew he was violent but they believed he wasn’t violent enough to kill someone’.

When Robbie kidnapped and beat her across state lines, courts sentenced him to 21 years in prison—majority of the sentence for the kidnapping rather than the abuse. Assault on a female is an A1 misdemeanor in NC, resulting in 150 days in jail, whereas theft is a felony. IPV (or domestic violence) laws in Alabama have a stratified penalty process, ranging from Class A misdemeanor to Class A felony.

Controlling and abusive behavior may persist, even when the abusive relationship terminates. Prison, for many abuse survivors, is the only place they feel safe due to a system that does not protect them.

Latina returned to her abusive boyfriend numerous times because of love and at the time of his death, there was a warrant for his arrest. Courts charged her with first-degree murder when she killed him, after years of threats and abuse left her blind in her right eye.

Gruelle concludes, “our criminal justice system requires that she be beaten enough to satisfy the system, and by the time it get to that point, she’s already been so worn down psychologically and physically and emotionally. That’s when it’s really time for advocates to step up and begin to treat her like she has some value because she’s been told now systematically that she doesn’t. The courts have told her that she doesn’t have value; her partner has told her that she doesn’t have value… and all that strips away from her. Advocates, instead of stripping away, we have to build back up.”

If You See Something, Say Something

It is important to understand the difficulty of reporting cases of IPV. Who wants to get their partner in legal trouble? Who wants to report their wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, and partner is abusive to them? Who is ready to accept they themselves are abused? IPV, like other forms of sex-based violence, often leaves the survivor in a traumatized state. This can manifest psychologically (irritable mood, overeating / undereating, splitting, dependency, fear of being along or fear of being with the abusive partner, and increasing isolation) or physically (exhaustion, severe weight gain or weight loss, and jumpiness). The symptoms of abusive relationships typically run deep, and the longer the relationship lasted, the more difficult these symptoms may be to spot. One critical symptom to look for is increasing isolation. The IPV situations typically result from an over-controlling or obsessive partner. These controllers may begin their abusive pattern of behavior by cutting off the victim from social contact with others outside of the relationship; the less face-time the victim has with others, the less likely to victim will be able to ask for help. In total isolation, the victim is hardpressed to find an ally, and he or she may fall prey to hopelessness and further traumatization. If you believe you know someone is in an abusive situation, reach out.

IPV is a complex human rights violation, and efforts to combat IPV must be flexible, durable, and persistent. Many social scientists work on deconstructing the psychopathology of perpetrators and patterns of survival in IPV victims. Advocates use their voice and social capital to broadcast the plight of IPV survivors and the identity of perpetrators. Ethical policy-makers codify punishments for IPV perpetrators, and enact funding for NGOs and government organizations that help IPV survivors. Finally, you can take action too. If you see something, say something. If you see a friend or loved one is in a relationship that does not seem right, initiate a conversation. Commit to naming and preventing intimate partner violence whenever you see it.

If you or someone you know is or may be in an abusive relationship, here are authorities to contact: in immediate danger, call 911 and The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

 

Ms. Hood considers domestic violence to be a form of domestic terrorism, and aims to raise awareness about the issue through her efforts including ThreeDaily.org.

American Citizens Affected By Hurricane Maria

Over the month of September, the island of Puerto Rico experienced two traumatic hurricanes: Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The eye of Hurricane Irma, a category five hurricane, hit north of the Island on September 7, 2017. Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to hit the island, left 1 million people without power. Shortly after Irma, Puerto Rico (PR) was ravaged again by another devastating hurricane. Hurricane Maria made direct landfall on Puerto Rico, resulting in a complete power outage in the island. 60,000 people were without electricity by the time Maria hit the island. Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló explained to CNN the island’s power grid is “a little bit old, mishandled and weak,” thus grid could take months to repair. Stemming from Puerto Rico’s power catastrophe, which especially strained the island’s power authority, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) filed for bankruptcy last July after racking up a $9 billion dollar debt. Not only did PREPA file for bankruptcy, so did Puerto Rico in May 2017.  Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy is the biggest municipal bankruptcy ever filed in United States history, owing the US more than $70 billion, thereby complicating officials ability to borrow money for public use. Post natural disaster recovery is reliant on money and resources, and without adequate funding and focused government management, rebuilding the island’s power system will be strained at best. The Puerto Rican economy and infrastructure was already struggling, and the impact of Hurricane Maria will exacerbate the issue further.

A picture of the American and Puerto Rican Flag
Todos Somos Boricua!. Source: Thomas Cizauskas, creative commons.

Even though Puerto Rico is not an American state or located on the mainland, PR is an American territory. Legally, a US territory has “the status of commonwealth, a legal and political status that is above a territory but still below a state.”  In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, which granted U.S. Citizenship to Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico on or after April 25, 1898. Puerto Rican US citizens are entitled to the same inalienable rights as mainland US citizens. Puerto Rican US citizens are also entitled to equal FEMA federal government response to natural disasters. Puerto Rico is home to 3.4 million US citizens and, without power, millions of Americans will not have access to clean water, medical supplies, food, and basic public health services.

Food and Water

Currently, food and water supplies are at emergency levels throughout Puerto Rico. According to FEMA, 42% of the people on the island do not have access to potable water. Potable water is safe to drink and use for food preparation, without risk of health problems. The loss of power resulted in a lack of access to clean water to bathe, cook, or flush toilets since water cannot be pumped into resident’s homes. Limited clean water sources result in a substantial public health crisis. Without clean water, individuals are prone to malnutrition, and poor hygiene and sanitation; this amplifies the spread of communicable diseases across the entire island. Specifically, the CDC highlights proper water, hygiene and sanitation has the “potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease burden and 6.3% of all deaths globally.”

As for food, 85% of the island’s food is imported from neighboring countries, like the Dominican Republic. Extreme infrastructural damage by Hurricane Maria massively disrupted the territory’s typical food imports. Maria additionally decimated Puerto Rico’s agriculture sectorresulting in a depletion of 80% of the crop value and local food production in Puerto Rico. The destruction of food imports and local food production is predicted to dramatically increase the cost of food itself and dramatically increase food shortages. These consequences will likely result in increased malnutrition of PR citizens, thereby increasing related illnesses and their effects, such as stunting and wasting throughout the island.  Recently, President Trump temporarily waive the Jones Act which “requires goods shipped between American ports to be carried out exclusively by ships built primarily in the United States, and to have U.S. citizens as its owners and crews.” Governer Richardo Rosello of Puerto Rico requested the act be waived, as the Act hinder disaster relief efforts post Hurricane Maria. Lack of power and crumbled infrastructure continue to make the distribution of food and humanitarian aid a challenge and pressing human rights issue.

a picture of water bottles
III MEF Marines prepare to provide assistance following tsunami in Japan. Source: DVIDSHUB, creative commons.

Health Care

“Just about every interaction with the health system now involves electricity, from calling a hospital for help to accessing electronic medical records and powering lifesaving equipment like hemodialysis machines or ventilators”

– Jullia Belluz, Vox

Puerto Rico’s health care infrastructure is devastated. Without an operational electrical grid, hospitals utilize gas-powered electric generators for energy. However, continuous diesel fuel shortages and lack water have ruthlessly weakened the capacity to treat patients throughout dozens of hospitals on the island. Likewise, numerus citizens injured during the hurricane have yet to be treated by health care professionals. Vulnerable populations, including: 1) children, 2) the elderly, and 3) persons with disabilities 4) life threatening health conditions, are at more severe risk for injury and death. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly and newborns require greater medical attention than the general population. Lack of power and hospital infrastructure becomes life threatening to patients needing live saving medical treatment.

Right to Adequate Health

The entire loss of power throughout the island exacerbates the intensity of Puerto Rico’s state of emergency. In our technologically advanced society, power is used in almost every aspect of our lives, especially in the US bureaucracy. Power helps us achieve our right to adequate health, explicitly defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is necessary Puerto Rico finds a timely solution to the territory’s failed power grid. The longer the communities live without power, the prospect of healthy and safe living environments remains grim. A complication furthering the aforementioned crises is the US’s congressional response to Hurricane Maria, which has been exceedingly disproportionate as compared to FEMA’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the president signed a $15 billion Harvey relief fund to help victims.  However, for victims of Hurricane Irma, more than 20 days have passed since the initial hit on Puerto Rico. Two weeks later Hurricane Maria hit the island, and still Congress has failed to propose a spending budget for post-disaster relief. US officials claim they are waiting for greater insight into the full assessment of damage on Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria completely infringed on the rights of US citizens. The effects of Maria are going to negatively interfere with a population’s economic, social, and cultural rights explained in the UDHR. Food, water, and health care are all required to maintain adequate health. Delayed financial response by congress to Hurricane Maria will continue to perpetuate poverty throughout the region.  Future PR recovery initiatives need to focus on rebuilding the island’s economy, and power grid infrastructure. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and are entitled to the same protection as all citizens; however, all people’s human rights should be protected regardless of citizenship.

Silence = Death: ACT UP

The basis of this blog is How to Survive a Plague. The story and all direct quotes are from this documentary.

a sign from the 30th anniversary of ACT UP rally
01a.Start.March.ActUp.NYC.30March2017. Source: Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons.

“We’re in a PLAGUE”, shouts Larry Kramer.

A plague to an outsider looks differently to an insider, particularly one who battles symptoms every day. The plague Kramer shouts of is HIV/AIDS and its decimation of the homosexual community. Until I watched this documentary, I had not considered AIDS a plague because its label was an epidemic or pandemic. My perspective on the topic was limited by my understanding of another’s plight. My first recollection of learning about HIV/AIDS happened in the early 1990s when Ryan White, a hemophiliac, died and Magic Johnson, a heterosexual basketball player, made his announcement. I still remember how as a middle-schooler, I rationalized the knowledge someone a few years older than myself died while also anticipating the death of one of my favorite basketball players. At the time, I had no idea the millions who succumbed to AIDS would die after a lack of treatment for the disease; nor did I know of the group of radical activists shaking up the government and scientific community with demands for intervention. The individuals of ACT UP, through the coalescence of anger and non-violent direct action, took the on the burden of the dying community. How to Survive a Plague chronicles the 10-year fight for antiretrovirual medications (ARV) needed to both save the lives of those living with the disease and help end the AIDS crisis in the US.    

Greenwich Village in New York City was the epicenter of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. During its initial outbreak, the virus was widely considered a ‘homosexual’ disease. Hospitals offered no treatments and turned the dying away, placing blame and responsibility for the epidemic squarely on the victims’ shoulders. AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) began “fighting for their lives, patients and their advocates took matters into their own hands.” The activists, labelled fascists rather than concerned citizens, began locally – at NY City Hall in 1987, six years into the pandemic.

Peter Staley, a bond trader on Wall Street at the time, insisted, “I’m going to die from this. This isn’t going to be cured” because without government trials or treatments at that point in time, all hope seemed lost. Hope arrived in a scientist named Iris Long, who offered her time to explain and teach members of ACT UP the ins and outs of the scientific community, arming them with medication and funding information. Survival became dependent upon knowledge of what needed to go into the body; therefore, forming the Treatment and Data Committee (T&D). The goal of T&D remained reading medical journal articles as a means of raising awareness while arming the members with terms and ideas for advocacy. The first medical treatment offered was AZT.

AZT, for many infected including Staley, proved more harmful than helpful. First, it cost $1000 per year. Second, it was not widely available. Third, side effects were unbearable in some cases. Lastly, it did not prevent any opportunistic infections from attacking an already weakened immune system. Robert Rafsky questioned, “What does a decent society do with people who hurt themselves because they are human? A decent society does not put people out to let them die because they have done a human thing.” By 1988, over 800,000 people worldwide died of AIDS-related complications. For members of ACT UP, there was a direct correlation between the loss of American lives to AIDS and the government’s failure to make medications accessibly affordable and safe. Overseas markets had accessible medications, but Americans bought medication on the black market—the “buyers’ club”, a desperate means of saving their lives while protesting government agencies. The buyers’ club stored and sold medications not approved by the US FDA, and provided information about HIV/AIDS related infections, including opportunistic infections.

The US FDA tested and marketed ARVs at a significantly slower rate than Europe—7 to 10 years versus 9 months respectively. While the FDA sat on their power to make, test, and market medications, deceased patients gathered into garbage bags and refused by funeral parlors; disregarded and denied dignity, even in death. In 1989, hope arrived again through a partnership with Bristol Myers and NIH as activists used platforms to bridge the gap between science and themselves by reaffirming the same goal: saving lives. NIH increased research priorities and allowed activists to participate in panels regarding trials and treatments. By 1992, the death toll worldwide was more 3,300,000 and a small sample of ARVs was ready to trial in the US.

The goal of ARVs is to suppress and halt the progression of the virus. In the 1992 trial, researchers found that over the course of a week, suppression of the virus occurred but did not remain in most patients. Fortunately, in one participant dubbed “Patient 143”, viral load suppression stabilized over time. Despite this small victory, 1993-95 became the most difficult for the activists. Internal splintering of ACT UP created a division of priorities which resulted in the founding of the Treatment Action Group (TAG). George H.W. Bush argued a change in lifestyle and behavior could stop the threat/spread of AIDS, yet he failed to conclude that it is irrational to believe that others should change their behavior, specifically LGBTQ community, without him changing his response to their requests, demands, and deaths. Additionally, Europe confirmed the ineffectiveness of the ARVs that were accessible at the time. This setback meant a reframing, restructuring, and reanalysis of the AIDS research scientific process.

TAG activists, together with the scientific community, focused on the possibility of a triple drug combination rather than a single drug solution. In 1995-96, the Lazarus effect began to take place in patients after 30 days on the medications. The antiretroviral therapy (ART) combinations arrived too late for millions including Ryan White; however, they sustain and give life to millions of others including Magic Johnson. The decision of ACT UP activists spawned justice for humanity, not just the LGBTQ community. Staley summarizes, “…just so many good people [died]… like any war, you wonder why you came home.”

This Wednesday, October 4 at Birmingham Museum of Art, 6pm, ACT UP activist Peter Staley will participate in panel discussion “30 Years of Acting Up”. The panel is a part of the One in Our Blood exhibition taking place around the city, including AEIVA and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

 

It’s Not Just Irma and Harvey: Deadly Floods Affect Millions Around the World

map_of_southeast_asia. Source: ANHCANEM88, creative commons.

These past few weeks have been a very vulnerable time for our global community. Media has been predominately focusing on the countries and victims affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Jose, however nature’s violent outcry stormed communities all over the world- not just the hurricanes in the West. Powerful monsoons struck South Asia, affecting more than 41 million people throughout Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. In Karachi, Pakistan, devastating monsoon floods abruptly invaded communities preparing to celebrate an Islamic holiday, Eid al-Adha. Lastly, Typhoon Hato swept into the cities of Macau and Hong Kong, causing thousands of people to flee their homes.

After all of these natural disasters transpired, one concept became very clear: Mother Nature does not discriminate. Natural disasters affect the rich and poor, high income countries and low income countries, and people of all nationalities and ethnicities. Regions struck by these disasters are left with substantial amounts of infrastructural, property, and environmental damage. As a result, victims of these disaster experience traumatic consequences, such as internal displacement and food insecurity. Growing up, I believe I was too young and just overall uninformed to really comprehend what natural disasters entail, and why they are so devastating. However, now being an adult, it’s obvious to me that the reason why natural disasters are so devastating is because post-disaster damage completely compromise the dignity of human rights detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Disasters interfere with a population’s economic, social, and cultural rights emphasized through 17, Article 22-27 of the UDHR. Articles 22-27 of the UDHR focus on establishing social security through people’s right to education, employment, adequate living conditions, cultural life, and leisure. Likewise, Article 17 of the UDHR establishes that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” Unfortunately, after a natural disaster, these rights are undeniably negatively affected.

Hurricane Katrina LA7. Source: News Muse, Creative Commons.

Right to Work

The right to work and employment is severely hindered after natural disasters due unimaginable infrastructural damage. In 2005, the US experienced public health tragedy when Hurricane Katrina devastated millions along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released numerous reports on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on employment and unemployment. These statistics state: “approximately 38 percent of business establishments in Louisiana and Mississippi were within a 100-mile corridor of the path of Hurricane Katrina’s center.” From August 2005 until June 2006, Louisiana unemployment rates soared from 5.8% pre-hurricane to 12.1% post-Hurricane Katrina. In Mississippi, unemployment rates climbed from 6.8% in 2004 before the hurricane to 10.4% after Hurricane Katrina. Everyone has the right to work to “ensur[e] for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”; this is ultimately difficult to achieve when opportunities for employment have literally been washed away. In the Caribbean regions, hit hardest by hurricane Irma, tourism one of the largest revenue-builders and an important source of income for many families. Specifically in Anguilla, a territory hit by Hurricane Irma, tourism contributed to 57% of the island’s GDP in 2016. Generally, travel and tourism alone contributed to about 15% of the Caribbean region’s total GDP. For the Caribbean victims of Irma, the disruption of the tourism industry is a disruption to a family’s livelihood. Natural disaster victims living in rural regions such as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh face continuous threat to work when their agriculture and crop land get destroyed and the becomes unprofitable.

Right to Adequate Living

The most noticeable human right that natural disasters discernibly jeopardize is the right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” For many survivors after natural disasters, ‘adequate living’ is no longer a reality. What happens when a family’s home is demolished in the wake of disasters such as these? Tragically, millions of people become internally displaced within their countries. The United Nations reports that about 851,000 people are displaced in India, 352,738 Nepalese are displaced from their homes, and lastly 696,169 people have been displaced in Bangladesh since the monsoons. Food insecurity also becomes an urgent need to address throughout regions affected by these disasters. Within two days after the floods, Nepal Food Security Monitoring System (NEKSAP), issued a first assessment of the damage. Results exposed that 70% of flood-affected areas are moderately food insecure or worse. Of that 70%, 42% of those regions are highly and severely food insecure.

Right to Education

Natural disasters also impede on one’s right to an education due to the damage sustained by schools and educational infrastructure. Human loss to education systems, comprising the loss of school administration personal, teachers, and education policy makers, affects the institution’s ability to deliver a quality education. UN reports affirm that in Bangladesh, 2,292 primary and community schools suffered substantial water damage. In Nepal, 1,958 schools have been ruined, thereby impacting the education of 253,605 children. In India, nearly one million students’ education have been disrupted when floods damaged 15,455 schools. Damage to schools not only undercut education in the short term, but threaten long-term educational goals as well. USAID explains “the normal processes of educational planning break down during an emergency, weakening the overall system and creating future problems in the development of an inclusive educational system.”

“Famine”. Source: Jennifer Boyer, Creative Commons

What’s next?

These events have got a lot of people asking why these disasters even occurred in the first place. Well, science indicates that climate change has become a major catalyst to such drastic weather related disasters witnessed throughout the past couple of weeks. As NASA explains “changes in climate not only affect average temperatures, but also extreme temperatures, increasing the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters.” With rising temperatures and a predicted increase in weather-related disasters, maybe the United Nations and our government should start to consider changing the definition of an internally displaced person (IDP) or a refugee to include people fleeing from natural disasters. The UN definition of a refugee is a person who , “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” Just like people running away from armed conflict, victims of weather-related disasters are also trying to escape harsh realities, including inadequate living conditions, food insecurity, no economic opportunities, and violence. A modern day example of weather-related disasters is the famine spreading across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya caused by intensified droughts.

“We have moved four times in the last four months. We were trying to follow the rain – moving according to where the rains were supposed to come. But they haven’t. If the rains don’t come, none of us will survive”

– Farhia Mohamad Geedi, Oxfam

Just like Farhia and her family, 10.7 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and are facing sever hunger. If their governments are not able to provide them with a feasible and effective solution, they have no other choice but to leave, or die. With a predicted increase in weather-related disasters such as drought and floods, more people will be living in extremely life-threatening  environments that will force them to leave their home. The destruction of the consecutive water disaster have been very tragic, but there is hope for the future. Countries have begun to recognize that “their shared burden of climate-related disasters can only be lifted by universal action to address the causes of climate change.” 175 countries from all over the world have signed onto the Paris Agreement, which will focus on keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius. We as a global community have already made such positive impact by acknowledging we have a problem, now it’s time to hold ourselves accountable for progress.

 

Additional resource: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein.

 

Moving Towards Environmental Justice: The Flint Water Crisis & Structural Racialization

the Flint Michigan Water Plant
Flint Water Crisis is ongoing. Source: George Thomas, Creative Commons

“Nothing that has been uncovered to date suggests that anyone intended to poison the people of Flint” (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017).  The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint report was authored in response to the growing cries from community members, government officials, victims, and bystanders concerned with the abject lack of proper response to Flint water crisis which began roughly at the middle of 2014.  The Flint Water Crisis, nationally and internationally infamous for the beleaguered and dangerous handling by all levels of government, has been documented, historicized, lectured upon, and dissected from news publishers, academics institutions, watchdog groups, government organizations, and everyone in between.  The bottom line is government officials cut costs in water sanitation and pipe replacements, the consequences of which sparked a full-blown state of emergency, and finally culminated in the deaths of Flint citizens from Legionnaire’s disease and other complications from the consumption of unclean water; those implicated range from District Water Supervisor Busch to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.  The failings in Flint, as argued by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, extend far beyond the ineptitude of handfuls of government officials and their lack of planning or preparedness.  The requisite conditions necessary for a crisis of this magnitude festered many years ago, perhaps as far back as the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.  Flint’s problems are institutional and systemic, and unfortunately, it took a catastrophe to bring these issues to the surface.

Structural racialization is understood as the tendency for social groups to “organize around structures that produce discriminatory results… without themselves possessing any personal animus” (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017).  In other words, an individual can actively contribute to community systems that result in suppression without actually harboring ill will to the victims of suppression themselves.  Ignorance/implicit bias, according to john a. powell (2010), is the primary driver behind structural racialization and its horrifying consequences.  Implicit bias–directly linked to structural racialization–sustains the longevity of the structures which cause discrimination, and these structures are kept alive only if the contributors to the structures are unaware of the malevolent consequences of the structures themselves (powell, 2010).  In the case of Flint, structural racialization began many years before the water crisis, and these implicit, racial structures ensured destruction from the crisis unfairly affected largely black, poor, politically unconnected individuals in the Flint area (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017). Using the term ‘structural racialization’ to describe a public health catastrophe, such as the Flint Water Crisis, offers no binding legal or moral prescription.  There is no way to sue a ‘structure’ for unfair or discriminatory harm.  The structure, in these cases, is reciprocally determined by every individual who unknowingly benefits from the structure and does not actively fight against the structure’s survival (powell, 2010).  The case of Flint is rife with example.  Contribution to underlying power structures such as these begins with implicit bias- it is the first stronghold keeping the structure in place.  Implicit bias, by definition, is unseen and unfelt. In this case, the denizens of Flint and the surrounding areas had no awareness of their complicity in structural racialization.  Without this awareness, there can be no hope to fight it.

Beyond the psychology of the issue is the legalistic support of structural racialization. In Flint, this involves segregated housing. The 1900-1930s saw a time of deeply-seated racist and discriminatory housing market practices that forcibly shepherded blacks and poorer whites into select neighborhoods in Flint.  These were effectively ‘ghettos’ and ensured black renters and homeowners were segregated from whites (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017).  Fast forward to present day: the neighborhoods hit hardest by the Water Crisis are neighborhoods that historically have belonged to poor and black renters and homeowners.  Racist business practices in the Jim Crow era exacerbated the loss and destruction felt by black and poor Flint citizens in the present day.

A woman holds water bottles filled with contaminated water in Flint
Flint Water Crisis. Source: Renee B, Creative Commons.

This is not to say the black community in Flint is the only one to feel the deleterious effects of the water crisis.  This public health emergency does not discriminate along ethnic lines. The discriminatory practices that trapped black Flint citizens holds that honor alone.  In 2017, a full three years after the crisis began, clean water is still an issue in Flint.  What do we tell the citizens of Flint?  How can they take civic action to expedite the process of returning to ‘normal’ life post-crisis?  Diana Francis, noted peacemaker and democracy advocate, espouses the concept of ‘speaking truth to power’.  This notion contends people–everyday concerned citizens–are the impetus of action in situational injustice.  Indeed, the recent criminal charges brought against Flint city administrators and politicians show a ‘top-down’ approach to this crisis is both unrealistic and ineffective.  For Francis, the true heroes in this story are citizens affected by and emphatic to the crisis.  Examining the normative response to Flint reveals a public willing to undertake protest and direct action, and a public expecting a direct confrontation with the individuals and systemic structures responsible for this crisis.  Here are some examples: a music festival raising awareness and money for the victims of Flint, national groups donating time and energy to provide resources to disenfranchised Fint citizens, whistleblowers risking their livlihoods to make the crisis public, and academics donating their skills to investigating the crisis itself.  These civil society actors may hold the key to eliminating the effects of the Flint water crisis and eradicating the conditions that precipitated the crisis in the first place.  Of course, this empowered response is not an assumed reaction.

In the face of a fully-fledged public health emergency, many citizens in Flint did not feel any semblance of trust in their elected officials to mitigate the crisis without state- or national-level intervention.  Without this trust, the citizens may have felt unable or ineffective to act against the discriminatory power structures in Flint.  This problem, unlike replacing pipes, cannot be ameliorated by federal funding or outside medical intervention.  Addressing this collective distrust will involve some form of cultural transformation.  These deeper fixes must involve the access to elected officials the general public has and the public’s ability to provide continuous feedback to these officials.  At several times in the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (2017), citizens of Flint (of all ethnicities) went on the record saying their concerns regarding water safety went unaddressed due to many factors, such as:

1) no knowledge of how to reach elected officials,

2) feeling their complaints were ‘unheard’ or ‘unseen’ to those who could help the situation,

3) fear of retaliation if undocumented immigrants or individuals with criminal records came forward with concerns, and

4) willful neglect on the part of government officials who simply did not feel accountable for the plights of minorities (involving both ethnicity and socioeconomic status) in the Flint area.

Two protesters hold signs decrying the lack of clean water in Flint
January 19, 2016 Lansing Protest against Gov Snyder regarding Flint Water Crisis. Source: nic antaya, Creative Commons

Moving forward, how can both human rights advocates and ordinary citizens protect rights equally in all corners of the globe and also address the grievances of individuals in Flint?  A shift towards environmental justice may be the answer.  This term means two things. First, all persons, regardless of identifying characteristics (ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, income level, etc.) have the right to enjoy the environment equally. Second, the responsibility of civic participation in the protection and maintenance of the environment belongs to all persons (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017).  Environmental justice takes its cue from Third Generation Human Rights (aka right to the environment) and adds the necessary ingredient of civic participation.  As I have stated previously on this blog, human rights are protected by “people, not documents”.  Given the second caveat of environmental justice, what happens if ordinary people have no avenue to address a public health hazard?  A crisis like Flint erupts.  What conditions predicate an inability to make these addresses?  This post contends a key condition is structural racialization.  Addressing the massive failures apparent in the Flint Water Crisis moves far beyond faulty equipment and the Flint city administration’s glacial response time.  Addressing this egregious human rights violation requires analysis going back at least a century in order to fully understand the complex interaction between history and the present.  Furthermore, the only long-term, stable solution to this issue is to equip the citizens of Flint with inexperienced political power and know-how.  This may include any of the following: a free, fair, and frequent election process; a truly representative (i.e. ethnicity, socio-economic status) local administration; a political mechanism by which citizens can openly voice public health concerns; and funding available in case large-scale crises such as these emerge.  Environmental justice in Flint, Michigan will only be achieved when the insidious structures barring unfettered access to a clean environment and free critique of those hindering this access are dismantled in their entirety.

 

Sources:

Powell, j. a. (2010).  Structural racialization and the geography of opportunity.  Online lecture. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2010_0611_tfn_sm_growth_training.pdf

Michigan Civil Rights Commission (2017).  The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flinthttps://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdcr/VFlintCrisisRep-F-Edited3-13-17_554317_7.pdf