January 19, 2016

Religious groups focus on Flint’s water woes

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Flint resident Ruby Adolph carries bottled water in Flint, Michigan The lead contaminated water supply there will be one of the issues discussed at the Nation of Islam conference in Detroit Feb. 20. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FLINT-FAITH, originally transmitted on Jan. 19, 2016.

Flint resident Ruby Adolph carries bottled water in Flint, Michigan The lead contaminated water supply there will be one of the issues discussed at the Nation of Islam conference in Detroit Feb. 20. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Rebecca Cook *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FLINT-FAITH, originally transmitted on Jan. 19, 2016.

(RNS) Catholic Charities is giving out water and food. The Flint Jewish Federation is collecting water and water filters. And the Michigan Muslim Community Council has distributed more than 120,000 bottles of clean water for Flint, Mich.

But these faith organizations are also focused on a longer-term goal: to make sure the impoverished city, where President Obama last weekend declared a state of emergency over its poisoned water, is never so neglected again.

“The most important role the church can have is to be the ethical watchdog for the welfare of the community,” Bob Bruttell, chairman of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, said Tuesday (Jan. 19).

Religious people — from black congregations within the majority African-American city to evangelicals hundreds of miles away — have responded with time, money and other donations to alleviate the water crisis threatening Flint, where officials had long declared its discolored water safe to drink.

But, Bruttell said, “the problem of treating those sickened by the water and building a new, safe water system for the city is so enormous … that all the religious groups working together won’t be able to solve it.”

Scientists and engineers say supplying Flint with water uncontaminated by lead and other pollutants won’t be quick or easy. In the meantime, public health officials want to test the thousands of children who have drunk and bathed in the city’s water, because they may suffer developmental and emotional disabilities associated with high lead levels in the bloodstream.

Dr. Muzammil Ahmed, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said his group — as part of a larger secular and religious coalition now forming in Michigan — will stay focused on Flint. “The water issue will be there a long time, because the infrastructure itself has been significantly damaged,” he said, adding: “The giving of water is the highest form of charity for Muslims.”

“It’s a grass-roots outpouring,” Bruttell said of the faith community’s response to the Flint crisis, “but not an organized effort.

“Everyone recognizes that the community has an ethical responsibility to these families and these children.”

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)