Alternative World Water Forum

Activist Groups Praise UN Response to Detroit Water Shutoffs, Urge City of Detroit to Restore Service to Affected Residents

Detroit, Mich.– Three United Nations experts have weighed in on the water shutoffs in Detroit, agreeing with our assessment that the situation there is an affront to human rights, and that by denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water for many of its residents.

We thank Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) for his attention to this issue and call on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to immediately restore water to all Detroit residents. Governor Rick Snyder should also demand that water service is restored for all people in the state. Further, we call on Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to hold hearings to look into this evolving crisis.

In 2005, the Detroit City Council passed a Water Affordability Plan, endorsed by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the People’s Water Board. However, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department chose not to implement this plan, and instead created its own plan, which has obviously failed to provide affordable, reliable water to Detroit residents.

These are the sort of conditions you hear about in developing nations, not in the United States. It is abhorrent that in this day and age, people should be faced with these conditions anywhere, let alone in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The UN experts also pointed out that is the state’s obligation to provide urgent measures, including financial assistance, to ensure access to essential water and sanitation. So why isn’t this happening?

We are relieved that the United Nations has issued a statement declaring these massive water shutoffs a human rights violation, but now what? Can there be any hope or even an expectation that poor, working families will be allowed to access water without giving up their first born child? Unfortunately, many in Detroit have lost all hope.

Two-thirds of these shutoffs are occurring in homes with children. In addition to not being able to bathe, prepare food and flush toilets, many are fearful that their children will be taken from them if they report any problems related to their water.

Nearly 40 percent of Detroit residents live in poverty, and the unemployment rate here is 17 percent, about 2.5 times the national average. Over the last decade, water and sewer bills have more than doubled, and the Detroit City Council recently voted to raise rates by almost 9 percent.

This is a major crisis. When 45 percent of water customers struggle to pay their water bills, it is clear that this is not just a problem with delinquent payment. It’s indicative of broader, systemic issues resulting from decades of policies that put profits before people. Because leasing or selling the DWSD will only lead to more problems, Mayor Duggan and Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr should abandon all plans to privatize the DWSD.


The Detroit People’s Water Board is a coalition that includes AFSCME Local 207, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Detroit Green Party, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Food & Water Watch, FLOW, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Matrix Theater, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, Sierra Club and Voices for Earth Justice. The coalition advocates for access, protection, and conservation of water and promotes the human right to water.

The Blue Planet Project is a global initiative that works with organizations and activists around the world to promote water as a human right and a commons. This includes working with local organizations and activists on grassroots struggles to protect democratic, community control of water, and building a movement to see the full implementation of the human right to water and sanitation. The Blue Planet Project is affiliated with international networks including Friends of the Earth International, Red Vida (the Americas Network on the Right to Water) and the People’s Health Movement.

The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization fights for, and represents, the victims of poverty. We organize to eliminate poverty and to stop the war against the poor. We are working with people to deal with the current water crisis in the City of Detroit by advocating for low income people to demand fair treatment, registering complaints against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), organizing protests and the DWSD offices and Detroit local government buildings, alerting people to resources – when available – to help with their water bills, and speaking out on the human right to water in the media and at public events.

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

Categories: Global stories

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