Open-air trenches carry raw sewage away from homes in a Butler County, Alabama community that Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited on Thursday, 7 December 2017. Photo: Connor Sheets / al.com

By Carlos Ballesteros
10 December 2017

(Newsweek) – 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. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this," Philip Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of AL.com earlier this week as they 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. So far, U.N. investigators have visited cities and towns in California and Alabama, and will soon travel to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

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."

An overgrown sign in rural Alabama. Photo: IBT Media

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. That's second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income, according to Quartz.

These income and wealth disparities affect minorities the most. Black, Hispanic, and Native American children, for example, are two to three times more likely to live in poverty than white kids, according to a study using Census data by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. [more]

U.N. Official Shocked at Poverty In Rural Alabama

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