A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world.
“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees.” said Philip Alston, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, earlier this week as he toured a community in Butler County where raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.
The tour through Alabama’s rural communities is part of a two-week investigation by the U.N. on poverty and human rights abuses in the United States Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa.
The U.N. investigation aims to study the effects of systemic poverty in a prosperous nation like the United States. By many accounts, poverty in the U.S. is worse than in most developed nations, despite rhetoric espoused by President Donald Trump and others who claim that the U.S. is the “best country in the world.”
According to the Census Bureau, nearly 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. That’s the highest rate of poverty among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income.