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U.N. calls for ‘immediate actions’ over Flint’s crisis

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis — now more than two years old — has drawn the attention of experts at the United Nations, with the international panel’s officials calling for “immediate actions” on human rights concerns there.

The city’s plight, according to a release from the international body, “dramatically illustrates the suffering and difficulties that flow from failing to recognize that water is a human right, not ensuring that basic services are provided in a non-discriminatory manner and treating those who live in poverty in ways that exacerbate their plight.”

The U.N. announcement came ahead of President Barack Obama’s scheduled to visit Flint Wednesday, his first visit since the water crisis began in April 2014.

“The fact that Flint residents have not had regular access to safe drinking water and sanitation since April 2014 is a potential violation of their human rights,” warned Léo Heller, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. “Serious problems reported on water quality, particularly high concentrations of lead, are also concerning human rights issues.”

At the heart of the U.N.’s criticism lies the economics of Flint’s situation — a poor community forced to deal with a situation many believe would not have happened in areas with higher incomes. It’s a sentiment Gov. Rick Snyder has faced repeatedly in the last year — that communities like Birmingham or West Bloomfield Township would never be forced to endure what Flint has.

“Decisions would never have been made in the high-handed and cavalier manner that occurred in Flint if the affected population group was well-off or overwhelmingly white,” said Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. “Elected officials would have been much more careful, there would have been a timely response to complaints rather than summary dismissals of concerns, and official accountability would have been insisted upon much sooner.”

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