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Rural Areas with Poverty, Lack of Resources, and Jobs

In the past, the conditions of rural America’s housing and living situations in many areas of the country had presented a dismal picture of life. Many people lived in shacks or other structures without proper plumbing, sewage, safe water, heating, electricity, or kitchen facilities, and the upkeep was very poor. These families typically spent more than 50% of all their income for these housing facilities, which left little money for food, clothing, medical care, heating, etc. Many of the properties failed to meet the basic standards of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Agricultural productivity has increased substantially. Despite leading to increased sales of products, there has been a decrease in the total farm workforce, making jobs harder to find, resulting in lower incomes per family unit and increasing poverty. Educational levels have dropped accordingly. Health care is a constant challenge.

Today, even though there are many more structures available that are fine for residential use, there is a serious problem of affordability. Rural rental households typically have lower incomes than other parts of the country and have less experience with good housing. Over 9 million impoverished people live in homes and communities in rural areas that are moderately or severely substandard. Rural poverty varies considerably from one area of the country to another. Fewer jobs are available for poorly educated individuals in the traditional industries of mining, manufacturing, forestry and agriculture. Further, because of the physical characteristics of some rural areas such as being isolated, having poor infrastructure and limited economic development, there is little opportunity to improve these areas or the living conditions of the individuals. (See endnote 23.)

Rural homelessness is different than urban homelessness. Those affected are most likely to be white, female, married, working, and homeless for the first time. Families, single mothers, and children are part of this group. The homelessness may be caused by an extremely low-income base or domestic abuse. There is also a substantial amount of homelessness among Native Americans and migrant workers. Unfortunately, there are very few shelters that are available to help these individuals. (See endnote 24.)

In rural areas, the inhabitants of some places are highly transient. These areas typically have migrant labor living in poor housing with questionable water and sewage. Migrant labor camps which are provided frequently have highly congested and unsanitary living quarters for the workers and their children. There is a serious problem of a lack of communication skills in English for many of the rural individuals living in these areas. This has led to even more problems of disease and injury and an inability to get appropriate medical care of a preventive or curative nature. The migrant workers are subjected to high levels of agricultural chemicals including fertilizers and pesticides.

Best Practices for Improving the Built Environment in Rural Areas (See endnotes 21, 25, 26, 27)

  • • Create appropriate Planning Commissions with legal authority and taxing power to make and enforce decisions, while utilizing all significant stakeholders both public and private, for developing a comprehensive area plan which may include several political entities.
  • • Coordinate all planning activities as well as actual implementation with nearby towns and villages to be able to share resources, expenses, as well as experiences.
  • • Develop a comprehensive land-use map that indicates preferred development in areas and describe the type of uses to be carried out.
  • • Create appropriate annexation policies that conform to development standards and preserve the rural character of the area. This will help reduce the strain on necessary infrastructure and help prevent sprawl by adding communities or other structures that do not meet the overall comprehensive plan of the area.
  • • Conduct a comprehensive study of all roadways within the planning area and how best to extend them to major roads and highways where feasible. Determine which ones are unsafe and in need of increased widening and necessary improvement in structure. This is a function of the state highway department.
  • • Conduct a comprehensive study of sources of potable water supply currently in use and which will be needed for the future with an expansion of the community. Test all existing wells to determine if they are contaminated and make all necessary corrections.
  • • Determine if a public water supply in existence can be upgraded and extended or if a new water supply will be needed for the compact areas of the small town or city. In either case, necessary funding sources will have to be developed.
  • • Conduct a comprehensive study of all sources of sewage disposal and determine if they are working effectively and if they are not contaminating groundwater sources or surface water sources. Those which are not working properly will need to be corrected immediately. This is highly labor intensive work by environmental health professionals and will require special funding.
  • • Determine if a sewage treatment plant is in existence for the compact town or small city and if so, can it be extended or will a new sewage treatment plant have to be built. In either case, necessary funding sources will have to be developed.
  • • Install necessary stormwater systems, public sewers where feasible, and potable water systems, as part of any road construction or major repair.
  • • Conduct a comprehensive study of all means of solid waste disposal and hazardous waste disposal to determine if they are being conducted properly and if they may potentially contaminate the land, air, or water. All existing situations have to be corrected immediately.
  • • Develop additional means of removal and disposal of solid waste and/or hazardous waste to appropriate facilities to meet new demands of expansion of the community in such a manner that it does not create release of pollutants into the land, air, or water.
  • • Provide appropriate street lighting in all neighborhoods, business areas, and on roads.
  • • Create a street tree-planting program to help beautify the area while reducing potential air pollutants from motor vehicles.
  • • Develop appropriate funding of projects using a public-private mix of funds. In addition, public funding should be used for roads and highways, schools, emergency services, and necessary infrastructure.
  • • Make a comprehensive survey of all facilities and infrastructure to determine that which can be rehabilitated and that which can be used for new purposes and include in the master plan.
  • • Develop appropriate zoning laws, housing codes, fire codes, electrical codes, plumbing codes, etc. that are enforceable.
  • • Do not allow political influence or favoritism to create exceptions to zoning laws which will be in conflict with the overall plan for the area and may destroy valuable farmland or critical environmental areas such as wetlands.
  • • Develop a mixed land-use community incorporating the existing compact design, downtown area and associated new adjoining areas.
  • • Create desirable and safe walkways and bicycle paths.
  • • Utilize the existing charm of the community and coordinate new or reused structures with the existing look and feel of a rural downtown area.
  • • Preserve open space within the residential and commercial community for parks, green areas, and places for people to assemble as they desire.
  • • Preserve farmland and the natural beauty of the surroundings and protect critical sensitive environmental areas.
  • • Provide a variety of inexpensive but frequent means of transportation to all parts of the community and rapid transit to the core urban area or regional center where feasible.
  • • Provide a variety of communities with housing for various income groups including those who have low income and may be supported by various federal grants. The people in the communities need to have accessibility to jobs, various services, shopping, schools, and places of worship.
  • • Develop energy-efficient structures of all types including businesses and homes.
  • • Identify federal grants that may be used to assist in planned growth from federal departments including the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant Program, the US Department of Agriculture Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program, and the US Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program.
  • • Develop renewable energy sources by using wind farms, biomass, and other alternative energy sources to provide less expensive energy to the rural areas.
  • • Work with environmental groups and government to protect watersheds and enhance natural habitat to create opportunities for ecotourism and higher-paying jobs.
  • • Grow local fresh food as part of a regional food system which can be sold to suburban and even urban markets.
  • • Provide a broadband service to the rural communities to allow individuals engaging in electronic commerce to live in rural areas and thereby provide additional talents, skills and energy to help the community prosper.
  • • Plan for and encourage rural commercial development in small towns and cities by bringing in to the community in a special area, associated with the existing downtown corridor, new office buildings, stores, services, restaurants, medical facilities, entertainment facilities, educational institutions, etc.
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