The Flint Water Crisis and the Multiple Dimensions of Water Insecurity

Authors: Benjamin Pauli*, Kettering University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Environment
Keywords: Flint water crisis, water insecurity, environmental justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Flint water crisis is perhaps the most significant example in recent memory of water insecurity striking a community in the heart of the Global North. Among other things, Flint is a reminder that even in the United States any assessment of water insecurity must take account of the deterioration (or potential deterioration) of water quality. Flint is also notable, however, for dramatizing the interplay of multiple sources of water insecurity, including—in addition to environmental contamination—the cost-prohibitive economics of water and draconian political policies that allow for water to be withheld from people unable to pay for it. All three of these factors are constitutive to Flint residents' understanding of the scope, severity, and significance of their water crisis. Drawing from over two years of ethnographic work in Flint, the objective of this paper is to assess the complex interplay of the factors contributing to water insecurity in Flint, and to highlight the ways in which addressing one dimension of water insecurity (e.g., water quality) can complicate efforts to address other dimensions (e.g., accessibility). It argues for a synthetic approach to addressing water insecurity that brings together technical, cultural, political, and economic perspectives.

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