In the Walmart parking lot, a long line of vehicles is a vivid reflection of America in 2022.
There are frustrated faces inside every car. There’s also anger and confusion that here in Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, they don’t have clean water.
A citywide boil water order was put in place last month due to “high turbidity levels” that are making the water cloudy. This followed a series of interruptions to the city’s water supply for years, caused by
high levels of lead, bacterial contamination and storm damage.
This time, the crisis was aggravated by floods that damaged the city’s old sewage treatment plants.
“It’s a joke that’s going on these days,” a man online tells me. “When the infrastructure is obsolete, that’s the kind of problem we have. »
“We don’t trust water at all,” said another, adding that he hadn’t trusted water for years.
Many in this city of 150,000 people collect for their families, young and old.
“We are trying to bring water to his mother. She is 87 years old, ”says a woman, pointing to her passenger.
I ask if they have water at home. “It’s coming out, but it’s very slow. And it’s no use. We are told to boil it for three minutes. »
Guidelines issued by the American Red Cross suggest that people should use coffee filters to remove sand from water before boiling it, as it stands.
Beyond the immediate challenges of how to wash, flush the toilet, find water to drink, they blame the mayor of the city or the governor of the state.
“The governor is to blame,” said one man. “He won’t give Jackson the funds to help him. »
Floodwaters from the Pearl River have also crippled the water supply system for the past two weeks, but it’s not just a story of storm damage. It’s a question of funding, politics and race.
In Jackson, 82% of the population is black, a quarter lives in poverty, 25% for a country where the average poverty rate is 11%. Crime rates are among the highest in the country.
Jackson is a town that feels abandoned and forgotten, like so many corners of America today.
President Joe Biden has made tackling the country’s collapsing infrastructure a central political issue ahead of November’s midterm elections.
He pledged federal support for immediate challenges. Repairing a legacy of underinvestment will take many years.
At a citywide press conference, a show of political unity masked a complicated relationship between the city’s mayor and state governor.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, has been asking the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves, for years for additional funding for Jackson.
I asked Mr. Reeves why the city is in this extraordinary situation.
“Well, what I would say to them is that I know you press guys really want to play the blame game, and you really want to focus on pitting different people against each other. others, and that’s definitely your priority, and that’s fine.
“What we are focused on is the immediate health and well-being of Jackson residents. »
Governor Reeves continued: “There will be plenty of time in the future to play the blame game. And you can do all of that, you can do it in real time if you want to, but I don’t have time for that. » «
The city’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, also accused by some of being responsible for the crisis, was more open.
“This is a set of accumulated issues based on deferred maintenance that hasn’t been done in decades,” he said.
He estimated it would cost at least $1bn (£870m) to fix the water system. Billions more would be needed to address the broader neglect.
“The people of Jackson deserve a reliable system, and we look forward to a coalition of the willing who will join us in the fight to improve this system that has failed for decades,” Mayor Lumumba said.
The harsh reality is that authorities here have no idea when clean water will return to this American community.