UN experts tour Detroit neighbourhoods on Sunday. Photo by Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.
On June 18, the Blue Planet Project, the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to drinking water and sanitation, urging her to take immediate action to help restore water services to the thousands of Detroit residents who had their water turned of by the city and to stop further service disconnections in Detroit.
Within a week, de Albuquerque, Leilani Farha, a UN expert on the right to adequate housing, and Philip Alston, the expert on extreme poverty and human rights, stated, “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.”
By October 13, MLive reported, “Two experts who report to the United Nations on water and housing issues plan to visit Detroit on Oct. 20, according to an official from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. …De Albuquerque and Farha plan to visit Detroit and address media on Oct. 20 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel…”
Photos: UN experts hear from Detroit residents. Photo by People’s Water Board Coalition; Sunday’s public forum on water disconnections. Photo by People’s Water Board Coalition.
Today, the Associated Press reports, “Advocacy groups and Detroit residents testified Sunday [October 19] about city water shutoffs as United Nations human rights experts arrived to observe the impact on low-income residents. Hundreds of people attended a town hall meeting Sunday afternoon. …[The UN officials] planned to make visits this week to neighborhoods where water has been shut off. They were scheduled to meet Monday morning with Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the Detroit City Council.”
“The groups, which helped organize [Sunday’s public forum], said in a statement that a judge overseeing Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy case ‘denied residents a right to water and a water affordability plan, both of which make the lack of access to water and sanitation dire for poor families and critical for public health’.”
And CBS News reports, “The disconnections in Detroit appear to conflict with a U.N. resolution that declares clean drinking water and sanitation as ‘essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights’. …’When there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections’, said de Albuquerque… [The UN officials are] expected to hold a press conference Monday to announce their findings.”
Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization says, “Thousands of families are still without water. The UN has now stepped in again after declaring water to be a human right. National and international groups have stepped up. We need Mayor Duggan and Governor Snyder to do the same.” Between January 1 and September 30, there were 27,000 water service disconnections in Detroit.
UN experts inspect a $3,000 water bill in Detroit. Photo by Food & Water Watch.
Beyond the Blue Planet Project report to the United Nations in June, the Council of Canadians organized a solidarity convoy and delivered water to Detroit in July. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow raised the issue in the New York Times and Blue Planet Project campaigner Meera Karunananthan was on Democracy Now!. In September we asked Judge Rhodes to issue a restraining order against the water shutoffs. We then expressed our profound disagreement and disappointment in his ruling that there is no ‘enforceable right’ to water.
Barlow comments on the UN mission in Detroit in the Huffington Post today in this op-ed.
Testing the human right to water in Detroit (October 16 blog by Emma Lui)
FAQs: The fight to protect the human right to water in Detroit (July 9 blog by Meera Karunananthan)