It’s obvious that water use is a large component in everyday life, “each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day” (Pearlman). The people of Flint Michigan are struggling to find a clean water source to provide them with their daily water, specifically one that doesn’t contain lead.
Corrosion damage to the water pipes has Flint in a state of crises looking for a new water supply. A cheap alternative solution is building new pipes to the Karegnondi Water Authority, but, “the city needs an interim source of water and turns to the Flint River” (Kennedy).
The Flint River though, was not properly verified as a clean source and the city instead took a, “wait and see approach” (Kennedy) in the cleanliness of the water, causing a major crisis when tests found traces of lead in the city water. It’s clear that a change in water source is necessary for the population of Flint, but one that satisfies the people, Flint’s budget, and the economy seems nearly impossible from a political economy approach. Institutions will have to hold each other accountable for their mistakes and find a solution.
“In political economy, environmental problems are already built into the economy” (Robbins). The political economy approach states that environmental issues, including contaminations, are built into a capitalist society. In other words, capitalism depends on contamination of resources in order for a profit to be made. The contamination of water in Flint is an example of uneven development (lower class people paying for an environmental issue and receiving no benefits) as Flint is, “a majority-black city where 40 percent of people live in poverty” (Kennedy).
In a city where most people are not wealthy, it is unlikely that the citizens are willing to pay extra for a different water source. The city of Flint is gaining profit by taking advantage of its people’s inability to be part of the new solution financially by only supplying the contaminated water to avoid reconstruction costs. The political economy approach is not focused on the people but rather on the money, making them guilty of the first contradiction of capitalism.
This contradiction applies when the commodity that laborers produce is damaging to their health, which in turn will lower the profit made on that commodity and lead to a change from a capitalist economy. In this case, the laborers of Flint are bound to fall ill if they’re forced to consume lead contaminated water; leading to an economic crisis as labor and profits decrease. If Flint takes a political economy approach, it’s crucial that they focus on the health of the people first to avoid this contradiction.
“The institution holding the most responsibility for unsafe water is the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)” (Kennedy). This is an institution responsible for the control and sustainability of Michigan’s resources, as well as the health of the community relating to these resources. The crisis arose because, “the State of Michigan’s responses to the drinking water crisis in Flint have been inadequate” (Kennedy).
The problem could have been prevented, or solved much earlier, if the MDEQ hadn’t failed to supervise one of the most important resources to daily life. It’s hard to declare if the MDEQ was oblivious to the issue on purpose to avoid expenses, or truly out of cluelessness. Either way, the MDEQ is responsible for failing to act on the lead contaminated water of Flint.
The political economy approach to water supply is similar to the institutions approach in that both were not focused on the health of the people. Although the MDEQ is responsible for the health of the people when it relates to natural resources, both approaches neglected the negative impacts that the lead contaminated water has on the population of Flint.
But, the two approaches are similar in that they both were aware that the water is not safe. A political economy approach sees the issue as economical and concerns with expenses, whereas an institutional approach holds each institution accountable for their actions. The relevance of each is determined by the solution that each approach offers.
The political economy approach offered little solution until another institution, the President, acted and declared a “state of emergency” (Kennedy). Once the President acknowledged the poor quality of the water, an action plan was set in place with free filters and replacement of the cities lead service lines. In this case, powerful institutions were far more relevant in finding a solution to the crisis than political economists.
Reports say that, the water, “remains unsafe to drink without a filter” (Kennedy). In my opinion, clean, drinkable water should be a human right and no community, rich or poor, should have to deal with the negative health impacts that contaminated water entails. Thus, a true solution to the Flint water crisis has not been found until the citizens receive report that the water they’re delivered each day is free of all contaminants.
The solution should not be seen as an expense but rather as an investment to the human health of Flint. Thus, an expensive project like implementing new water pipes from a clean water source is more beneficial than a temporary, cheap solution like providing water filters at each home. I support the institutions approach that not only held the MDEQ accountable, but also searched for a solution.
In all, the people of Flint, whether rich or poor, deserve access to a clean water source. If a political economy approach that doesn’t focus on the well-being of the people can’t provide a long-lasting solution, then institutions like the President must hold other institutions like the MDEQ responsible for its actions. Acknowledging the negative impacts that lead contaminated water has on human health demands that a change be made. With the help of large institutions, soon each person of Flint will have the clean, 80-100 gallons of water on average used daily by the rest of America.