By Caleb Mynatt
As a winter storm wreaked havoc on the United States in mid-February, much of the infrastructure in parts of the South found itself put to the test. And although many places that were hit hard have managed to recover, the citizens of Jackson, Mississippi, still find themselves reeling from the effects of the storm.
It has officially been over three weeks since many of the residents in Jackson have had access to running water, and those who do have access have been notified that it is unclean. In light of the crisis that many residents are facing, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has joined with local partners to get clean water to the underserved parts of the city.
In the last week in February, the CBF Disaster Response Committee approved a $2,000 grant filed by CBF Mississippi to be utilized in combatting the Jackson water crisis. That money went toward delivering water to citizens at New Horizons Church International, a local church in Jackson. CBF felt that this partnership with a prominent church in the area would be one small way it could help do the most good.
“We were pleased to learn about the proposed presence of the water tanker truck at New Horizons Church, since it represents a collaborative effort between local partners, CBF Mississippi and CBF Disaster Response,” said Steven Porter, coordinator of Global Missions. “Those sorts of partnerships really help us leverage everyone’s resources for greater impact.”
Although this is the only form of monetary aid that CBF has provided, it’s possible that it may not be the last. That’s largely because, at this time, there is still no estimated timeframe provided by local or state government for when drinkable running water will be returned to every citizen in Jackson. CBF Mississippi is still closely monitoring the situation and working with local partners to see how they can help out.
“Right now, we’re identifying the people who are doing that good work and making sure they have the money and resources to keep doing what they’re doing,” said Jason Coker, coordinator of CBF Mississippi. “This is actually one of those cases where bringing in lots of volunteers could hurt the situation and block things up. The best thing we can do is help the people already on the ground.”
The ongoing water crisis has put both Jackson’s failing infrastructure and its dysfunctional politics, present at the state level, in the national spotlight. On March 5, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, formally requested federal help due to the lack of support from the state government in Mississippi. According to Coker, Governor Tate Reeves was failing to fulfil his duty to serve the citizens of Jackson.
“Instead of bending over backwards to help the mayor, the governor is not taking it seriously,” said Coker. “He’s joking around about how he should take over. Instead of really providing help, he’s playing politics and, all the while, people can’t even flush their toilets. It’s truly disgraceful.”
Although the water crisis has brought Jackson’s infrastructure under criticism in recent weeks, it is a problem that has been decades in the making. According to Coker, Jackson’s weak infrastructure can typically result in rolling water outages and boil-water notices throughout the city at any given time. Then, when the storm hit the city, the infrastructure finally crumbled as water lines burst throughout the city. This ongoing infrastructure problem, according to Coker, is a result of the lack of tax revenue caused by “white flight” dating back to the days of school integration in the 1970s.
“Fifty years ago, after the integration of schools, a lot of white people moved out of Jackson,” said Coker. “That gutted the city’s tax base and, as the suburbs grew, the city continued to lose revenue. It hasn’t had the money to pay for infrastructure cost, and Jackson has suffered like this for decades. In many ways, this is a result of historic racism in the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi.”
All the while, CBF Mississippi and local leaders are still having to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s still much work to be done and help to be administered outside of issues caused by the storm. The effects of the storm have only made accomplishing those goals harder. Now, accounting for the fact that families and businesses both are without water in many parts of Jackson, the city is facing layers of crisis that seem to have no end in sight.
“The pandemic is still in full effect,” said Coker. “COVID is the layer of heaviness on top of a very difficult economy and the winter storm is just like adding insult to injury.”
To help CBF Mississippi’s relief efforts in Jackson, consider making a direct donation to CBF Mississippi or to New Horizons Church International. This is the best way to ensure your donation will be used in directly combatting the water crisis.