Clean Water Crisis Exacerbated by Coronavirus

Communities have demanded access to clean water for decades, in some cases. The coronavirus pandemic is compounding the struggle and illustrating the inadequacy of most local government responses.

1 minute read

April 22, 2020, 12:00 PM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


Water Bottles

Steven Depolo / Flickr

We know that hand-washing with soap is a highly effective way to fight coronavirus, but for communities without access to potable water, safely following the hand-washing guideline is impractical and often impossible. 

A 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that between 1982 to 2015, almost 45 million Americans accessed lead or chemical-laden water that did not meet health standards. Communities without access to clean water range "from small, rural towns in Kentucky to New Jersey’s densely populated city of Newark. And while clean water access isn’t only an issue for majority-black communities like Flint, Denmark, or Detroit, one study did find race to be the strongest correlative to lack of clean water," writes Khushbu Shah. 

The new challenges posed by the coronavirus exacerbates injustices that these groups have experienced for decades. In supermarkets, when bottled water is available, shoppers are limited to buying only two gallons per person per visit. 

Most local governments have not adequately addressed the issue. However, in Newark, New Jersey, workers have replaced about half of the city's close-to 19,000 lead-filled pipes since 2019. In other communities, residents are forced to rely on mutual aid and donations to ensure access to clean water before and during this time of national emergency.

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