by Gemma Tate, UNA-SNY YP Social and Humanitarian Affairs Committee
Water is a human right. So why were residents of Flint, Michigan, forced to drink dangerously contaminated water for so long? One word: greed.
In Flint, government officials believed that cutting costs was worth putting the people's health in danger. An unthinkable betrayal of public trust, the emergency has drawn widespread condemnation and sparked nationwide dialogue. In March, a group of women change-makers gathered at the United Nations Foundation to voice their opinions on the matter.
The panel discussion, "Women's Responses to Water Crises in the U.S.," was organized by the United Nations Association Southern New York State Division Young Professionals and the Alpha Kappa Alpha (Tau Omega) Chapter. Speakers offered takeaways on effecting change in communities across the country.
"What is happening in Flint is devastating and criminal," said Melissa Mays, a Flint resident and the founder of the woman-run initiative WaterYouFightingFor. "Our disaster is a shining example of what happens when water is treated like a commodity, and profit is more important than people. At the end of the day, people have died, and this is happening in other cities all across the world. If this practice of greed and apathy is not stopped, you'll see thousands of Flints everywhere with more lives destroyed and lost."
For many Americans, Mays' comments underpin a serious concern: Could a similar tragedy be repeated in your city? Is your drinking water truly safe? What can you do to ensure it is?
Speakers emphasized the importance of education and unity. One person can easily be ignored, but a giant collective cannot. According to Lesha Witmer, chair of the Standing Committee on Sustainable Development & Water, it's crucial for everyone to band together to demand clean water in their daily lives. "Most people still take water for granted," she said. "[I]t is not. We have to be vigilant and active and willing to invest to keep our waters safe.”