Navajo Receives Covid Aid for Health Crisis, but Land Contamination Issues Still Loom
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SHIPROCK, NM / ACCESSWIRE / May 11, 2020 / There are many ongoing and devastating issues that continue to plague the Navajo Nation and are contributing to their extremely high death rate during pandemics, especially now during this Covid-19 crisis (CV-19). Much of their 27,000 square miles of vast, renowned and famous landscapes such as Monumental Valley-based at the southwest four corners of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona has been dangerously contaminated for decades by poisonous uranium output and refuse from large power and mining companies who previously leased their Native lands. Many water sources are unsafe for drinking due to unauthorized dumping and negligent cost-cutting over the years while not adhering to the proper environmental and safety regulations set out. Despite countless court orders, lawsuits, commitments, and many promises from both USA government organizations and private corporations, the Navajo continue to live in a state of despair with primitive and inadequate infrastructure in place and without the "basic human right" means to clean, safe, running water. The Navajo people have the third-highest death rate per capita in the world for CV-19 deaths and their situation will never begin to improve in the future unless they get the promised funding needed to clean up their contaminated lands and provide access to clean, running water and electricity in every home and business. The Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWS) was recognised as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.
"I just want to thank President Trump for this acknowledgement of $600 million in Covid Relief aid allocated to our Tribe which will be a tremendous help in fighting our current devastating health and sanitation situation". Said Dineh Benally, President of San Juan River Farm Board. "However, we will still continue to press those other agencies that have already promised funding earmarked to clean up the contaminated lands and regulate all water sources to prevent many of the health issues that plague this Nation in future."
From 1944 to 1986, mine operators removed millions of tons of uranium ore from Navajo Nation that was high in demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II. Many companies were on long term land leases with the Navajo working the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to these locations. Today, there are over 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation and a legacy of uranium contamination remains, as well as leaving their homes and water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water to name but a few. Health conditions like these are examples of the ailments many Navajo suffer from when they contract the CV-19 virus which makes them most high-risk. As well, without access to clean, running water and adequate living conditions, their ability to adhere to proper hand-hygiene and social distancing guidelines can also be contributing factors to their devastating mortality rates.
"After many years of Federal land assessments and surveys of the dangers we face, we are asking for no more delays, no more political red tape, and no more excuses." Said Benally. "It is estimated that approximately $7.9 Billion dollars in needed to provide the proper infrastructure for the Navajo and also correct the damage that has been done to the land and water over the years."
There are currently approximately 40,000 families (with an on-reservation population of about 174,000) living on Navajo Nation and have been on ordered government lockdown with emergency weekend curfews in place for the past several weeks. It is estimated that up to 30% of the population (approximately 54,000 people) do not have piped water to their homes. These residents haul water either from safe watering points or from unregulated sources, such as livestock wells and springs. The number of unregulated and potentially contaminated water sources is estimated to be in the low thousands.
The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA) policy prohibits the use of unregulated sources of water for human consumption as they are susceptible to bacterial contamination, including fecal coliforms and exceed drinking water standards for uranium and other chemicals. However, this policy is often disregarded out of sheer necessity due to lack of public water systems in the more remote and sparsely populated regions and has become one of the greatest public health risks associated with water for the Navajo.
Residents are helpless, without clean water and money to buy food and essential supplies. Many of these families have elderly members vulnerable to CV-19 and are already challenged by existing severe health issues. Navajo children & grandchildren are unable to visit their high-risk elders to bring them medicine and the domestic violence and increased alcohol abuse has become even more rampant than ever before.
"This $600 million aid will go along way in helping our fragile and much-underfunded healthcare system cope with this horrific situation and give the people immediate access to supplies and resources they need." Added Benally. "During the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009, Native Americans died at four to five times the rate of other Americans so this will also contribute from this tragic history repeating itself".
In 2008, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a "5 Year Plan" (2008 - 2012) to address cleaning up contaminated structures, providing clean drinking water, assessing abandoned uranium mines, cleaning up Northeast Church Rock Mine and other high priority mines, remediation of groundwater, conducting health studies, providing for workforce training and development, conducting coordinated outreach and also to clean up the Tuba City Dump. Then, in 2014 EPA created a SECOND "5 Year Plan" (2014 - 2018) which built upon the work done during the first five years, and established objectives and strategies to address the most significant risks to human health and the environment.
Accredited Government Organizations such as, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Department of Energy (DOE), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Indian Health Service (IHS) collaborated together on these plans with specific milestones and objectives to address. Since however, there has been no update on what action has been taken and the status of these projects reported. Just to provide access to safe drinking water that includes traditional piped water solutions and basic sanitation alone to all Navajo homes, IHS estimates minimum cost of $200 million dollars. * This is additional to the urgent need of hundreds of millions of dollars for cleaning up the soil and positioning the people for new sustainable farming practices as emerging global agriculture opportunities arise once adequate water sources can reach their farms. Benally added, "My ultimate priority is protecting our people and all the visitors and tourists that begin to travel here again from getting sick, and ensuring the water source they are using is clean and safe as tourists most naturally assume". (*source: epa.gov website)
On March 25, Congress passed the two ($2) trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which includes eight ($8) billion to help tribes fight the coronavirus however it wasn't specified how this money was being allocated and so far none has reached the Tribe directly. In addition, many residents don't have the means to apply (or qualify) for any benefit as they have no postal address or valid government ID recognized off the Nation. Furthermore, this funding announcement created even more disputes and unrest as the Navajo strongly opposed sharing this funding with for-profit Alaska Native corporations that have adequate economic infrastructures in place and clean, safe water sources available.
Please refer to these government assessments and summaries completed identifying all contaminated mines, structures and water sources on Navajo Nation reported over the last twelve years.
- 2008 - Health and Environmental Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation Five-Year Plan (2018 - 2012). Click here . (pdf)
- 2013 - EPA Summary Report. Click here. (pdf)
- 2014 - EPA Five-Year Plan 2014 - 2018: Federal Actions to Address Impacts of Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation. Click here. (pdf)
- 2008 - 2014 - Federal Plans to address Impacts of Uranium Contamination on Navajo Nation. Click here.
"I implore these esteemed government agencies mentioned to immediately come back together in May 2020 with the Navajo Nation Council and resolve these basic human rights violations identified". Said Benally in closing. "The faster we can get the funding and move forward with the solutions outlined in all the EPA reports, the faster we can begin to implement measures that will prevent this dire situation of fatalities from ever happening again".
Some personal friends and supporters of the Navajo have also developed a public fundraising campaign and Go Fund Me page to make a plea to the public and businesses for donations to give to the Tribe members directly and draw media attention to their plight as well. A website has also been launched that further highlights the desperate situation these Natives face. Whether you are able to donate, like or share the fundraising page, or post on personal social media networks, the Navajo appreciates any support available. Every small effort can make a huge impact. Here are links. #CovidKindness #WeAreInThisTogether
GO FUND Me - Urgent: Forgotten Navajo Natives Need Help Now
Facebook - Help Our Natives Covid Relief
Website - HelpTheNavajos.com
Navajo Nation - NNDOH.org/donate
SOURCE: One World Ventures Inc
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