An estimated 2.2 million people in America are water-insecure, and that’s almost certainly a huge undercount, explains Lela Nargi in FERN’s latest story. Yet the issue “is not even on most public health professionals’ radar, although recent water disasters in Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi, are starting to change that.” There’s no healthcare screener for water insecurity, so doctors don’t ask patients if they drink their tap water, cook food with it, and use it to mix infant formula and cereal? “Such questions,” Nargi writes, “could uncover some of the millions of Americans who are water insecure—a circumstance directly connected to food insecurity.”
“There are no official estimates of combined food and water insecurity, which makes it tough to understand the scope of the problem, let alone to propose solutions.
“We’re measuring water by how many cubic meters there are and dividing it across the land,” says Sera Young, an associate professor of anthropology and health at Northwestern University. “Or we’re measuring infrastructure, which is like, ‘Where do you get your drinking water from? Is it from a tap? Is it from a well? Is it from a borehole?’ But you can imagine 99 scenarios where you have a tap but you can’t pay for water to flow through it, or you don’t trust the water that comes out of it, or the infrastructure upstream of the tap has gone to shit. There are lots of reasons why measuring physical availability or infrastructure only gives you a pinhole peek of what the real problem is.
“The only way to truly understand water insecurity, Young says, is to consider people’s lived experiences as clinicians have learned to do with food access.”