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Water Cut-off in U.S. City Violates Human Rights, Say Activists

Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2014 (IPS) - When the United Nations reaches out to resolve a water or sanitation crisis, it is largely across urban slums and remote villages in Asia, Africa or Latin America and the Caribbean.

But a severe water crisis in the financially bankrupt city of Detroit in the U.S. state of Michigan has prompted several non-governmental organisations and activists to appeal for U.N. intervention in one of the world’s richest countries.

“This is unprecedented,” said Maude Barlow, founder of the Blue Planet Project, a group that advocates water as a human right.

“I visited the city and worked with the Detroit People’s Water Board several weeks ago and came away terribly upset,” she told IPS.

"Water bills are regressive, so low-income households pay a disproportionate amount of their income for water service." -- Mary Grant, researcher at Food & Water Watch
She pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly African Americans, are having their water ruthlessly turned off.

Families with children, the elderly and the sick, cannot bathe, flush their toilets or cook in their own homes, she added.

“This is the worst violation of the human right to water I have ever seen outside of the worst slums in the poorest countries in failed states of the global South,” said Barlow, a one-time senior advisor on water to a former President of the U.N. General Assembly.

Last March, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced plans to shut off water service for 1,500 to 3,000 customers every week if their water bills were not paid. And on Tuesday, the City Council approved an 8.7-percent water rate increase.

According to a DWSD document, more than 80,000 residential households – in a city of 680,000 people – are in arrears, with thousands of families without water, and thousands more expected to lose access at any moment.

A group of NGOs has submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, urging the United Nations to weigh in on the crisis and help restore water services and stop further cut-offs.

In a joint report released Wednesday, the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organisation and Food and Water Watch made several recommendations, including an appeal to the state of Michigan and the U.S. government to respect the human right to water and sanitation.

The report also calls on the city of Detroit to abandon its plans for further cut-offs and restore services to households that have suffered water cuts.

Mary Grant, researcher at Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group based in Washington DC, told IPS people often think the United States has fully met the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and provides universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

But as the crisis in Detroit shows, the situation is more complex and certain communities lack these essential services, she added.

When the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water visited the United States last year, Food & Water Watch wrote a report delineating violations of the human right to water and sanitation across the country, primarily in rural, Latino and immigrant, Native American and homeless communities.

Grant said water shutoffs for non-payment are one way these violations are occurring.

In Detroit and other cities, she pointed out, households can lose access to drinking water and wastewater service when they cannot afford to pay their water bills.

The few low-income assistance programmes that exist are inadequate and fail to meet the needs of struggling households, she added.

“Water bills are regressive, so low-income households pay a disproportionate amount of their income for water service. Unfortunately, water rates across the country are increasing.”

She said there are many factors driving this: federal assistance for water infrastructure has been cut back by more than three-quarters since the 1970s, ageing systems are reaching the end of their lifespan, and water quality standards are getting stronger “as we learn more about the health risks of substances that contaminate our water.”

Large cities, in particular, are struggling to maintain and modernise water systems without making water service unaffordable for their least well-off residents, said Grant.

Food & Water Watch’s research has found that communities experience even larger water rate increases when systems are privatised.

Grant said the shutoffs appear to be an attempt to make the water and sewer system more appealing to potential private investors.

Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent, according to a press release Wednesday.

With unemployment rates at a record high and the poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population.

Many of those affected by the shut-offs were given no warning.

“The infirm have been left without water and functioning toilets, children cannot bathe and parents cannot adequately prepare food for their families”, the press release said.

Barlow told IPS Detroit is “the canary in the coal mine.”

Through years of corruption and mismanagement, deep cuts to infrastructure and social security, the city is now bankrupt and unable to care for its people, she noted.

And years of neoliberal policies such as free trade, de-regulation and privatisation have allowed the wealth to be diverted to the suburbs and jobs to move overseas.

“Detroit is our collective future if we do not start re-investing in essential services, education and health care, local communities and sustainable local economic development,” said Barlow.

She said, “What is happening with these cut-offs is a social crime.Here in North America we are creating failed states and punishing the most vulnerable among us with these ruthless polices of savage capitalism.”

She said the city has experienced flight of wealth and business and as a result, the poorest and most vulnerable have had to pick up the tab for essential public services.

“Water rates have gone through the roof and people cannot pay. Let Detroit be our wake-up call. President Barack Obama must step in,” Barlow pleaded.

(END)

 
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  • D. Hallar

    Neo-liberalism.

  • TheEndGameIsNear

    Shady should turn on the hose to the Detroit government..

  • Alastair

    I am very surprised this would happen and it really goes to show the stupidity of these cities. The health knock on effect is horrendous if sanitation is not maintained, houses become abandoned and whole neighbourhoods become vacant and subsequently derelict.

  • http://www.locomotivebreath1901.blogspot.com/ locomotivebreath1901

    The conclusions of this article are propaganda, at best, if not outright lies.
    **
    Detroit used to be the jewel of the north. During the 1st half of the 20th century, it had the highest per capita income in the country. Then came the 1970′s, and the socialist policies of Mayor Coleman Young. His 20 year reign was one of corruption, cronyism and racism. There’s even a name for it: ‘Colemanism.’ By the time Coleman left office in 1994, Detroit was in ruin, and what exists today is little more than a 3rd world toilet.

    Many books have been written on the destruction of this city.

    If the people of Detroit want water, they should provide themselves with water. They’re on a massive inland lake, fer cryin’ out loud.

  • geno4321

    Water is a basic right of the Human Individual. If denied it he has the right to use force to gain it. The Middle Class does not need the 1% but it needs water to survive as a specie.

  • Jennie

    It is happening all over the county, our water bill literally more than doubled this year. Instead of $125 quarterly, now we pay $285 quarterly.

  • geno4321

    It should be termed Neo-Conservative, as there is nothing Liberal in denial of a need. Socialism supply the needs of a community versus Capitalism which restricts the need to gain the highest return at the lowest cost to a restricted group.

  • Vestias

    Water and human right America the peoples not can abandoned

  • Tracy O’Brien

    Liberalism caused the Detroit mess. Liberals own this fiasco. And yes, thus is our future if we continue down this slope of liberal quackery we’re on.

  • geno4321

    When did banks become Liberals? Never saw a Liberal Banker in my life, And its been long.

  • Debra Taylor

    This post is clearly propaganda! And severely misinformed.

  • Debra Taylor

    Agreed!

  • Debra Taylor

    Yeap!

  • Debra Taylor

    Amen!

  • Debra Taylor

    Agreed!

  • http://www.locomotivebreath1901.blogspot.com/ locomotivebreath1901

    How so? Please explain.

  • KCisKing

    I once had my water and sewer service cut off because I didn’t pay my bills, (just me being stupid and losing track of things)… Why didn’t I think about going to cry to the UN or some other group saying it is unfair instead of paying and catching up my bill.

  • drpetesut

    Should Detroiters walk down to the river with a bucket on their head? Is that your lovely vision for Detroit?

  • rjgwood

    What about children who live in households where this is occurring? I suppose you are okay with that? Disgusting excuse for a human.

  • rjgwood

    No. That is not what happened to Detroit. What happened is that it was a one industry town, and that industry picked up and left, add white flight to that, which eroded the tax base, red lining and other horrible, racist policies, and you will begin to touch on the difficulties that Detroit is currently facing. Love how you completely ignore these issues in your ignorant “assessment” of Detroit’s struggles.

  • KCisKing

    There were children living in my house at the time. Nice on the name calling, I am guessing you are getting your checkbook out and sending payments to take of the water for them. How dare you afford to pay for the ability to connect to the internet while people can’t aford water, how disgusting of you. (yes, that is sarcasim but you see how it works)

  • KCisKing

    You are pathetic. Eveyrthing is about race. NO you blind bigot. It isn’t about race, it is about the fact that someone has to pay for the services, somehow the infrastructrure has to be paid for to provide the water. DO I SEE YOU PAYING FOR IT, you racist. Every comment from you is about race, it is a very old and tiring excuse. THIS IS NOT ABOUT RACE, GOT IT. Until I see you poersonally providing water to people in Detriot you need to shut up, you hateful figner pointing individual.

  • rjgwood

    Love all of your facts and evidence for your absurd opinion. You clearly have no understanding of the history of the state or the country, and have no problem trying to shout down people who do.

    Just because you say something, does not make it thus. You are a blowhard.

  • rjgwood

    Water is a HUMAN RIGHT. If corporations had not polluted the water, it would be digestible. Let them pay. What do you propose? That people die of thirst? What the hell is wrong with you?

  • KCisKing

    How am I the blowhard, you are the name caller. Did you not call me a disgusting excuse of a human. You are the one that cam out shouting. So try again. Again tell me how are you providing water to the people of Detriot. Wait, let me guess that isn’t your job huh, you would rather pamper yourself with your wants and cry foul when other people dont’ provide it. You are sad .

  • KCisKing

    What the hell is wrong with you! Why aren’t you on a plane up to Detriot providing water ot people. You miss the freaking point, what about these people stepping up an being responsible to. Why are they in a position that they can’t provide water. I am so SICKI AND TIRED

  • rjgwood

    Thinking that people who are poor should be deprived of water – that was your comment. That is disgusting. I really hope you rethink your positions.

  • rjgwood

    Do you have any idea what the unemployment rate is in Detroit? It is well over 20%, there are no jobs there. The water used to be clean and potable, but no corporations have polluted it, and you have no problem denying people water.

    What would you have people do? They can’t go down to the Lake St. Clair and pump out the water, rain water is non-potable, the Detroit river is undrinkable. So, now if you are poor, you do not deserve water.

    I suppose you are a “Christian”?

  • KCisKing

    No, you are missing the freaking point. Get off your high horse and think for a minute. You are asking/demanding that a person provide a serivce to someone for free, something that you aren’t willing to do yourself. It takes a very weak person to sit behind a keyboard and moan and complain demanding that someone give something to someone when they wont’ go out and do it themselves. Do I feel for the people that are losing their water service, sure. But neither YOU or I know the situation for each household, we don’t know if they have the funds but use it for something else or if they are truely in a bind. And trust me I know people who have had the money but use it on other things instead of necessities.

  • KCisKing

    When are you cutting back on your luxuries and sending your shipment of water to the people of Detriot?

  • rjgwood

    No! This isn’t a “service”! This is essential, life-sustaining, basic human requirement!

  • rjgwood

    Who would Jesus deprive of water??? Sick excuse for a human!

  • KCisKing

    Yes, it is a service. I grew up in the middle of Missouri and NO ONE provide the service of water to us. We had to drill for our own water. So yes it is a SERVICE that someone has to provide. How can you not understand that? Again when you are goinjg to start taking your time to provide them water then,it is all about you whining about someone else doing instead of YOU!!!

  • rjgwood

    Yes – you are the same kind of radical yahoo that thinks that we should just allow houses to burn down unless people have paid for that “service” in advance! You people are ruining this country!

  • chris8lee

    Pittsburgh was a “one industry town ” and the people adjusted. There are people in Detroit and its suburbs doing well..what’s the empirical observation you can’t bring yourself to make?

  • Phyl

    Something the American people should know:
    Dr John Coleman, “The Club of Rome is one of the most insidious baneful organizations in existence today [32:50], which has done intolerable, immeasurable harm to the United States of America. This Committee of 300 told a man called Aurelio Peccei to form this Club of Rome with the main object of bringing down the industries and the agricultural development of the United States. He immediately wrote a paper in which he said, “There are too many people on the earth that the United States with its industrial development and its agricultural redevelopment is responsible for this ? over population.” [33:32] And he picked this documentation of his work from Lord Bertrand Russell the senior statesman of the Committee of 300. Lord Bertrand Russell had written a work called “The Impact Of Science On Society”, and if you can ever secure a copy of that book which I doubt you’ll ever be able to get, you will see in there that he said, “The world is grossly over populated and we have to get rid of at least half of the world’s population and it doesn’t matter how we do it.”

    So the Club of Rome was instituted and organized to start an attack on the world’s population using the United States as the whipping boy. And they came up with the paper called ‘The Zero Growth Post Industrial Plan for Industry and Agriculture for the United States of America’. Three days after that plan was accepted as official by the United States Policy by James Earl Carter, I was able to through my intelligence people to get a copy of this insidious document. Basically what it said was, “That the middle-class of the United States of America have to be destroyed because in the coming push to a world order the middle-class would be the stumbling block, because history has shown that the peasant-class in ancient days when they had revolted were just easily crushed, there was no resistance, but now they have grown a new ‘super-class’ of people in the United States called the middle-class who had long-term employment, they had job security, who were well paid, who could afford to buy the products that were made by the United States didn’t need to buy products from China or anywhere else and the Club of Rome’s post industrial zero growth paper said “This has got to stop! We have to bring down the middle-class of the United States, and the way that we will do this, the way that we will accomplish this task is: By Crushing Their Industries! ”

    In 1980 based on this report I wrote a small ‘work’ a booklet called “The Death Of The United States Steel Industry” – Dr John Coleman, in that I told of a French aristocrat by the name of Eti[36:12]….& more… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA51CAJTenM

  • Phyl

    oh come IPS quit being a negative entity!!!!

  • Phyl

    Something the American people should know:
    Dr John Coleman, “The Club of Rome is one of the most insidious baneful organizations in existence today [32:50], which has done intolerable, immeasurable harm to the United States of America. This Committee of 300 told a man called
    Aurelio Peccei to form this Club of Rome with the main object of bringing down the industries and the agricultural development of the United States. He immediately wrote a paper in which he said, “There are too many people on the earth that the United States with its industrial development and its agricultural redevelopment is responsible for this ? over population.” [33:32] And he picked this documentation of his work from Lord Bertrand Russell the senior statesman of the Committee of 300.
    Lord Bertrand Russell had written a work called “The Impact Of Science On Society”, and if you can ever secure a copy of that book which I doubt you’ll ever be able to get, you will see in there that he said, “The world is grossly over populated and we have to get rid of at least half of the world’s population and it doesn’t matter how we do it.”

    So the Club of Rome was instituted and organized to start an attack on the world’s population using the United States as the whipping boy. And they came up with the paper called ‘The Zero Growth Post Industrial Plan for Industry and Agriculture for the United States of America’. Three days after that plan was accepted as official by the United States Policy by James Earl Carter, I was able to through my intelligence
    people to get a copy of this insidious document. Basically what it said was, “That the middle-class of the United States of America have to be destroyed because in the coming push to a world order the middle-class would be the stumbling block, because history has shown that the peasant-class in ancient days when they had revolted were just easily crushed, there was no resistance, but now they have grown a new ‘super-class’ of people in the United States called the middle-class who
    had long-term employment, they had job security, who were well paid, who could afford to buy the products that were made by the United States didn’t need to buy products from China or anywhere else and the Club of Rome’s post industrial zero growth paper said “This has got to stop! We have to bring down the middle-class of the United States, and the way that we will do this, the way that we will accomplish this task is: By Crushing Their Industries! ”

    In 1980 based on this report I wrote a small ‘work’ a booklet called “The Death Of The United States Steel Industry” – Dr John Coleman, in that I told of a French aristocrat by the name of Eti[36:12]….& more… youtube com/watch?v=UA51CAJTenM

  • rjgwood

    Chris,

    What you seem to be suggesting is that rather than the issue being systemic problems, that the problem lies with the people of Detroit?

  • http://www.locomotivebreath1901.blogspot.com/ locomotivebreath1901

    That.s not my vision for Detroit, but it’s the obvious result of parasitic, liberal politicians with their ponzi scheme policies which looted that city during the last 40 years.

    Although walking down to the river with a bucket beats dying of thirst. It’s what the natives did for centuries, and what the pioneers who founded the town in 1701.

    Is urban man supposedly superior to the natives? Hardly.

    Or why don’t you pay to truck in bottled water, drpetesut, if you’re so concerned.

  • Realist

    Water doesn’t seem to be listed on the UDHR, nor is it listed in the US Bill of Rights. Where are you finding that it is a human right?

  • Corinne

    I would also like to thank everyone covering this story. Apparently local Metro Detroit media (WXYZ, WDIV, FOX News) has no interest in reporting this. I’d like our journalist friends who are investigating to research what the “word” on the street is; the real goal of this campaign is force people out of their homes and take the land for redevelopment.

  • KCisKing

    Again twisted logic, just how would Jesus be deprive anyone of water? How is anyone depriving anyone of water? Someone gets paid to operate to bring water to people, it is a service being provided and you are demanding that people provide that service for free. If you would take the time to read about what is going on in Detriot it would really help instead of you sitting around calling people names. There are programs to help the people who are truely in need, the water Department is saying that a majority of the people who have their water shut off come in the next day and pay their bill in full. Please take the time to read about the subject. http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2014/06/23/nearly-half-of-detroit-water-customers-cant-pay-their-bill/

  • commonsense

    rjgwood IS ON POINT. Who are you to pretend that the 1967 riot was not a response to the mistreatment of Black people by White people. I am not saying that all the White people mistreated all the Black people. What I am saying is that IT WAS REAL. IT WAS THE RESULT OF RACISM. Therefore, Coleman Young’s election to Mayor was the product of that reality. So don’t turn around and call him a racist because he became Mayor of Detroit. Today, there are too many people who want to pretend that racism didn’t exist and that it does not exist today. If you don’t live in Michigan than YOU DON’T KNOW SHIT ABOUT WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON WITH DETROIT. YOU’RE BASING YOUR OPINIONS ON BULLSHIT THAT YOU HEAR ON TELEVISION. Detroit’s local media channel 2, 4, & 7 should NOT TO BE TRUSTED. They promote an anti-Black agenda. They make it their business to make White people look like angels and Black people look like devils. In turn it conditions the broader masses to accept racist discriminatory policies against Detroit and Detroiters. About 95% of the citizens of Detroit are minorities (i.e. Black, Hispanic, Arabic, Asian, Benghali). They are surrounded by the greater area and greater state which is about 90% White. Now of course all of these people are not racist. However, this racial composition across geography SETS THE STAGE FOR THE PROBLEMS. This dynamic makes is easy to discriminate against Detroit and Detroiters in many ways. White Power Brokers (corporate moguls and politicians) pull the strings behind the scenes that contribute to the creation of the problems. This is being done with the support of ignorant whites, racist whites, ignorant blacks, black politicians who are afraid (under duress), and stupid blacks who sell out their own people for a dime. How do you fix Detroit’s current problems? First, replace the Detroit regional FBI Leaders with leaders that are not natives of the State of Michigan. Second, bring Rick Snyder and his cronies to justice for conspiracy to run a criminal enterprise and violating the State and Federal Constitution. Third, declare illegal all actions that have deprived the citizens of Detroit of their public assets including but not limited to their education system, law enforcement system, court system, sanitation system, water system, and pensions. Fourth, investigate Detroit’s mainstream news media for corruption and conspiracy.

  • commonsense

    The parasitic looting did not take place over the last 40 years. THE PARASITIC LOOTING IS TAKING PLACE NOW! THE GOVERNOR USED A BLSHT ACCOUNTING METHOD TO DECLARE AN EMERGENCY THAT HAS BECOME THE COVER TO LOOT THE CITY!. Learn the facts for yourself. What the governor has done is is OK today because it’s Detroit, the city that people have been programed to hate. Because it (Emergency Declaration followed by looting the city by the politician’s private sector cohorts) is allowed to happen today in Detroit… what do you think the plans are for your tomorrow?

  • SteveLC

    the city has experienced flight of wealth and business and as a result, the poorest and most vulnerable have had to pick up the tab for essential public services. And this is very wrong. However, how many of these people are registered to vote and vote and voice this issue. How many of these people with delinquent water bills have Cable TV with HBO, IPAD & IPhones and Smart phones, monthly hair, finger nail salon bills? Sadly many Black Americans have not heeded Malcolm X advice on how to become a black nation of people in the USA.

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