Skip to content

United Nations special rapporteur on water and sanitation to visit Detroit

Photo: Karunananthan presents de Albuquerque with right to water reports in Marseille, France in March 2012.

MLive reports, “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. …[Catarina] De Albuquerque [the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to drinking water and sanitation] and [Leilani] Farha [a UN expert on the right to adequate housing] plan to visit Detroit and address media on Oct. 20 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel…”

An estimated 24,000 people have had their water shut-off in that city this year.

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 de Albuquerque urging her to take immediate action to help restore water services and stop further service disconnections in Detroit.

Within a week, de Albuquerque, Farha 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.” De Albuquerque further stated, “When I conducted an official country mission to the US in 2011, I encouraged the US Government to adopt a federal minimum standard on affordability for water and sanitation and a standard to provide protection against disconnections for vulnerable groups and people living in poverty.”

Blue Planet Project campaigner Meera Karunananthan has noted, “The median household income in Detroit is $25,193. According to the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, a family of four pays between $150-200 per month for water and sewerage services, which can represent up to 20 per cent of their monthly income.” And as Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui has stated, “Even though 40 per cent of the population is unemployed, water rates are twice the national average in the bankrupt city. Water rates have increased 119 per cent in the last decade. An increase of 8.7 per cent was approved in June. The bankruptcy plan proposed recently would increase water rates another 34 per cent.”

But just two weeks ago U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled against issuing a six-month restraining order against water disconnections in Detroit.

Significantly, the Guardian reported, “The judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy ruled [on September 29] that the city can continue to shut off water if people can’t pay their bill. Judge Steven Rhodes said there was no ‘enforceable right’ to water and the Detroit water department would face a significant risk of higher defaults if a moratorium was issued.”

The Council of Canadians expressed profound disappointment in that ruling. Barlow commented, “It is appalling in wealthiest country in the world this denial of the most basic rights, water, has been allowed to go so long. We are very disappointed by this outcome.”

Further reading
Windsor-Essex chapter organizes solidarity action to challenge Detroit water cutoffs