A United Nations official touring the U.S. to conduct an investigation into extreme poverty believes Alabama has the worst poverty in the developed world.
UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston is on a two-week trip to different parts of the country, according to Newsweek. He will release a report on his findings in 2018.
Alston toured Alabama's Black Belt region on Dec. 7 and observed raw sewage flowing from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches.
"I think it's very uncommon in the First World," Alston told Alabama Media Group, referring to the sewage. "This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this."
Alston traveled to areas where residents have fallen ill with hookworm, a disease usually seen only in extremely poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Aaron Thigpen, an activist in Fort Deposit, Alabama, showed Alston a house belonging to his relatives where raw sewage is released above ground.
"These two pipes are the raw sewage pipes coming from the house," added Thigpen. "And you've got your main water line here, and it may have a hole in it, so everyone gets sick all at once."
Alston said governments are failing their residents.
"There is a human right for people to live decently, and that means the government has an obligation to provide people with the essentials of life, which include power, water and sewage service," added Alston. "But if the government says, 'Oh no, we're not going to do it,' and leaves you to install very expensive septic tanks, that's not how it should work."
The UN rapporteur, who is also a professor at New York University, is touring sites in Alabama, California, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, among others.
Across the U.S., close to 41 million people live in poverty, meaning the U.S. has the second-highest poverty rate among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people who earn less than 50 percent of the national median income.
These social conditions tend to affect minorities more frequently, with black, Hispanic and Native American children two to three times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts.
Alston explained that the U.S. has encouraged similar investigations in other countries, but now it is America's turn.
"There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country," said Alston, according to Newsweek. "And that does have significant human rights implications."