Everyone deserves access to clean air and water, right? We generally don’t consider the dangers of ignoring these human rights, until our own rights are violated and stripped away from us.

That is what is happening in Detroit, where roughly, 3,000 homes are being shut-off because of late payments of water bills. Within the last ten years, Detroiters have seen their water rates increase by almost 119%! The Detroit Water and Sewage Department is running mass water shut offs, which will distress over 120,000 account holders in an overall 3-month period. Over this time, forces beyond the residents control — including a citywide financial crisis that left 1 out of 5 residences in foreclosure and sent local unemployment rates skyrocketing — severely challenged Detroiters’ ability to pay.

Because all of the dysfunction in conjunction with severely, outdated systems with the Detroit Water and Sewage system, most Detroiters even went months without receiving a bill. This accounts for over 40% of customers who are using the Detroit water system.

Sick people have been left without running water and working toilets…People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook.” Congressman Covers

Because of lack of water…

  • Sanitation is becoming a serious concern. Without water for basic things like food preparation, cleanliness of food preparation tools and waste disposal, disease can become a threat factor in a matter of days. And, if left unchecked, disease can spread in a months time.
  • Dehydration also becomes an immediate threat to Detroit residents. A lack of access to clean and drinkable water on a scale of this size can affect residents without delay. Dehydration occurs in approximately 1-2 days, and if left untreated for a long period of time, can result in death from lack of blood circulation.
  • Without water, the threat to the health and safety of Detroit residents becomes immediate, which can then become endemic in just 60 days time. By looking at the extent of this issue (120,000 water accounts or 300,000+ people) Detroit can be considered a disaster zone, and immediate relief and preparation will be needed.

A coalition of welfare rights organizations appealed to the United Nations to have service reestablished and to prevent more shutoffs. UN officials who specialize in human rights relating to water and sanitation, adequate housing, and extreme poverty, said,

“…disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to t lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights” 

Maureen Taylor, state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, stated during a television interview:

“What is at stake here is that there are tens of thousands of low-income families who cannot pay rising water bill costs.

At some public schools in Detroit, children in households without water are having their clothing laundered at school

“It’s just a terrible health hazard when they come to school in their dirty clothes. And the parents, you know, are afraid because if you don’t have water, they can take your kids away,” ~ Carole Watson, a Detroit school administrator.

With 40 percent of Detroiters living below the poverty line, and water rates above the national average, will Detroit continue to deny residents access to clean water, or will Detroit allow this public health emergency escalate into disaster?

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