Quantcast

Water Cut Offs in Detroit Are a Violation of Human Rights

I recently visited Detroit, MI, and am shocked and deeply disturbed at what I witnessed. I went as part of a Great Lakes project where a number of communities and ‎organizations around the basin are calling for citizens to come together to protect the Great Lakes as a Lived Commons, a Public Trust and a Protected Bioregion. We are also deeply worried about the threat of extreme energy such as diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta and fracked oil and fracking wastewater from North Dakota being transported by pipeline and rail near the lakes and on barges on the lakes and are calling for a ban of these dangerous toxins around and on the Great Lakes.

But the people of Detroit face another sinister enemy. Every day, thousands of them, in a city that is situated right by a body of water carrying one-fifth of the world's water supply, are having their ‎water ruthlessly cut off by men working for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Most of the residents are African American and two-thirds of the cut offs involve children, which means that in some cases, child welfare authorities are moving in to remove children from their homes as it is a requirement that there be working utilities in all homes housing children.

The burden of paying for the water and sewer services—with rates rising 119% in a decade— have landed on those who've stayed in Detroit, mostly poor African Americans.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

People are given no warning and no time to fill buckets, sinks and tubs. Sick people are left without running water and running toilets. People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook. Is this a small number of victims? No. The water department has decreed that it will turn the water off to all 120,000 residences that owe ‎it money by the end of the summer although it has made no such threat to the many corporations and institutions that are in arrears on their bills as well. How did it come to this?

Detroit is a victim of decades of market driven neoliberal policy that put business and profit ahead of public good. Social security programs have been slashed and their delivery privatized. Investment in essential infrastructure has been slashed. Every winter, hundreds of aging pipes spew water from leaks and the water has not been turned off in thousands of abandoned houses and boarded up businesses where frozen pipes also lose huge amounts of water.

With globalization and the hollowing out of the once mighty auto industry, wealth and businesses fled to the suburbs, draining ‎the city of its tax base and the water department of its revenues. (There are one million fewer people living in Detroit than there were in the 1950s.)

The burden of paying for the water and sewer services landed squarely on those who stayed, mostly poor African Americans. Rates rose 119 percent in a decade in a city with record high unemployment and a 40 percent poverty rate. 

To make matters worse, as a cost cutting measure, the water department stopped sending bills, expecting residents to just figure out their own bills. It then installed "smart metres" that read backwards and many families were hit with bills in the thousands of dollars. Many of these bills were from former tenants, and many included water bills from near by abandoned houses but that didn't matter to the authorities.

Recently, the city of Detroit was declared bankrupt by the state and a high priced bankruptcy lawyer was named Emergency Manager with a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially. Nothing is off the chopping block, not the city's famous art collection or its water utilities which are about to be privatized. As the feisty Charity Hicks, a leader of the resistance to the cuts and a founding member of the Detroit People's Water Board, points out, authorities see these unpaid bills as a "bad debt" and want to sweeten the pot for a private buyer. Hence the rush to implement a ruthless plan of cut offs for anyone more than two months behind in payments.

It is important to acknowledge the class and race dimension of this assault. There have been no stories on the cut offs in the mainstream U.S. media. One cannot imagine that fact if the people losing their water were middle class white people. But the feeling is that Detroit is a lost cause and the people there deserve what they are getting.

L. Brooks Patterson is the elected CEO of the affluent Detroit suburb of Oakland. In a recent interview in the New Yorker, he affirmed that a statement he had made 30 years ago was still valid. "A number of years ago I made a prediction and it's come to pass. I said, 'What we're gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a wall around it and then throw in blankets and corn.'"

This man wins his elections with huge majorities.

What is happening in Detroit is a social crime and a violation of the human right to water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations. It is a violation of the "Obligation to Respect," whereby a right once realized cannot be removed.

The situation in Detroit is a travesty and the governments of Michigan and the U.S. itself must be held accountable. President Obama must step in.

As more and more of the public space is privatized and sold off to corporations, is this our collective future? Never before have the differences between the one percent and the poor been greater in America.

The daily cut offs of water in Detroit—water needed for life and dignity—are an affront to the notion that we have advanced very far in our understanding of human rights or in its practice. We all stand guilty if we do not shout out against this terrible injustice on our continent.

--------

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Lasting Effects of the Polar Vortex on the Great Lakes

Viral Video Shows the Insanity of Bottled Water

Dangers of Water Privatization Emerge in the Wake of West Virginia's Chemical Spill

--------

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
iStock

The Hazards of EIA Energy Forecasts

Accepting the conclusions of the latest energy outlook, released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) means also accepting certain climate catastrophe.

As we have noted before, the EIA has made a routine out of releasing unrealistic, distorted and dangerous outlooks on the future of global energy demand. These projections should come with a warning label.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Sci-Fi Novel Envisions Corporatocracy in a Climate-Changed Future

By Nexus Media, with Tal M. Klein

In Tal Klein's new novel, The Punch Escrow, humans have successfully tackled disease and climate change, but powerful corporations control everything. The book has created a stir among sci-fi fans, and there are already plans to adapt it to the big screen. In this conversation with Nexus Media, Klein shares his perspective on science, technology and the future of our species. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority Facebook

World's Largest Solar Park to Also Host World's Tallest Solar Tower

The Dubai government has awarded a $3.9 billion contract to construct the 700-megawatt fourth and final phase of the world-record-holding Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

The project also includes the construction of an 850-foot-tall solar tower that receives focused sunlight, the world's tallest such structure once complete.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Nike

Nike's New 'Flyleather' Sneakers Are Made From 50% Recycled Leather

By Daniele Selby

Nike's new sneakers are pretty fly—and we're not just talking about how they look. The company's new Flyleather sneakers look good, feel great and are less damaging to the environment.

In 2012, Nike introduced its Flyknit technology, which recycled plastic and other material into lightweight shoes, according to GQ. With Flyknit shoes, Nike aimed to make sustainable fashion functional and trendy, and it has applied that same mentality to its new Flyleather shoes, which it unveiled this week to coincide with Climate Week.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of 15 threatened wild places profiled in "Too Wild To Drill." Florian Schulz

These 15 Unique Wild Lands Are Threatened By Extractive Industries

A new report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about wild lands threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.

Too Wild To Drill identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development—and the damage and destruction that inevitably follow. These lands provide Americans with important benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and jobs and other socioeconomic benefits.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
USGS Science Explorer page has zero search results for "effects of climate change." It previously had 2,825 items, according to climate scientist Peter Gleick.

'No Results Found': Thousands of Climate Science Links Purged From USGS Online Database

Yet another U.S. agency has deleted climate change information from its website. This time, the U.S. Geological Survey's "Science Explorer" website—a tax-payer funded online database for the public to browse USGS science programs and activities—has been purged of thousands of formerly searchable climate science links.

The startling discovery was made by Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and member of the U.S. National Academy of Science.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
New York City lights up green to stand for the Paris agreement. C40 Cities

These Companies Support Climate Action, So Why Are They Funding Opposition to It?

By Rachel Leven and Jamie Smith Hopkins

The international climate-fighting pact would create jobs, Google said. Leaving the deal known as the Paris accord would be bad for business, top executives from Bank of America and Coca-Cola argued. When President Donald Trump committed to yanking the U.S. out anyway, PayPal and Western Union countered "We are still in."

These corporate titans and at least 22 others were among those who sought to preserve the U.S.' role in the landmark Paris agreement ratified by about 160 countries. So why exactly would these 27 business powerhouses also support a GOP group that's fought to undo a key Obama-era domestic climate initiative?

Keep reading... Show less

How Monsanto Manufactured 'Outrage' at Chemical Cancer Classification It Expected

By Carey Gillam

Three years ago this month Monsanto executives realized they had a big problem on their hands.

It was September 2014 and the company's top-selling chemical, the weed killer called glyphosate that is the foundation for Monsanto's branded Roundup products, had been selected as one among a handful of pesticides to undergo scrutiny by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto had spent decades fending off concerns about the safety of glyphosate and decrying scientific research indicating the chemical might cause cancer or other diseases. And even though the IARC review was still months away, Monsanto's own scientists knew what the outcome would likely be—and they knew it wouldn't be good.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox