There’s a new player in Detroit who wants to bring attention to how the city has shut off the running water in thousands of homes because residents have been unable to pay their water bill. The water shutoff caused an outcry earlier this year from folks who believe the city’s response was severe and inhumane. Now the United Nations has joined that chorus and stated that the water shutoffs violate human rights, Al-Jazeera is reporting.
“Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,” U.N. officials Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha wrote to Detroit officials in June.
On Monday the U.N. followed up that email with a press conference in Detroit, after having completed a fact-finding tour of the city. Officials wanted to see how several residents were coping without running water.
“We were shocked, impressed by the proportions of the disconnections and by the way that it is affecting the weakest, the poorest and the most vulnerable,” said de Albuquerque.
The impacted residents are happy that the U.N. is advocating on their behalf, since a lawsuit they filed against the city of Detroit was not successful. A judge ruled that “although ‘water is a necessary ingredient to sustaining life,’ residents nevertheless have no ‘enforceable right’ to water and that the city needed the revenue,” Al-Jazeera explained.
With flu season upon us, many people are scared that the lack of access to running water will become a public health issue, putting people in Detroit at risk of infection. Also, children who live in homes without running water are susceptible to being taken by child-protective services.
“I have had to train my children,” Theresa Clayton, a third-grade teacher in Detroit, explained as she recalled for Al-Jazeera what she tells her students about the child-protective issue. “‘If you do not have water, you cannot tell me … because the people will come get you.’”
U.N. officials sent recommendations to the city on how to resolve the crisis. Chief among them: Reinstate the water supply for all of Detroit’s residents.
“What I am calling for is a total prohibition of disconnections of people who cannot afford to pay, and people who are in a particularly vulnerable position,” said de Albuquerque.