I found Catherine Flowers’ illustration on the lack of environmental justice in the U.S. both interesting and striking. She described why hookworm, a parasitic disease usually connotated with extreme poverty in other parts of the world, is now abundant in rural Alabama.
The parasite enters the body through the skin, and attaches itself to a part of the small intestine, where it sucks blood from its host. However, a disease that was perceived as being completely gone from the U.S. in the 1980s, has reemerged in Alabama, particularly Lowndes County. Shockingly, 34 % in the county tested positive for genetic traces of hookworm (Pilkington, 2017).
What are the reasons behind this? As Catherine Flowers discussed, there are two primary factors. Firstly, Lowndes County has a long history racial discrimination and poverty. As such, the population is more susceptible to environmental injustice. Secondly, the county has a flawed sewage system. Flowers has estimated that about 80 % of Lowndes County is uncovered by any municipal sewerage system, and people that are not covered are expected to provide their own (Pilkington, 2017). Citizens are forced to buy their own septic system, which are often unreasonably expensive. Furthermore, households have experienced flooding of rainwater mixed with waste, creating perfect conditions for hookworms to flourish.
The reemergence of hookworm in Alabama is therefore a reminder of the importance of environmental justice in designing nature’s futures. In these times of climate change, it is vital that we take necessary measures to protect the people who are more susceptible to its consequences.
Pilkington, E. Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US south. Why?. The Guardian, 2017.