UN Asked to Stop Detroit From Shutting Off Water

Activists say the city is violating poor residents' human rights

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 23, 2014 1:28 PM CDT

(Newser) – Detroit Water and Sewerage has been shutting off water to thousands of residents who are behind on paying their bills—and now a coalition of activists is asking the UN to get involved. As of March, nearly half of the city's 323,900 DWSD accounts were delinquent, the Detroit Free Press reported at the time. Since April, nearly 7,000 clients have lost water service, and some say they were never warned their water would be shut off, ThinkProgress reports. In a report last week to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, activists say some families have abandoned their homes after more than a year without water. "This is the worst violation of the human right to water I have ever seen outside of the worst slums," one of the activists says, per Fox 25.

Water rates have jumped 119% over the past decade—and will be raised by 8.7% July 1, a challenge for residents of a city with a 40% poverty rate. The activists' report cites a city rep who confirms that the shut-offs were to get more aggressive, targeting 3,000 delinquent customers per week, as of June 2. The activists also allege that DWSD is treating business clients—roughly half of which are also delinquent—differently, though a DWSD rep insists any account, either residential or commercial, gets shut down if it is $150 delinquent or 60 days in arrears. The activists say DWSD is trying to get rid of lower-income customers so the department will be more attractive to private investors for a potential takeover, Al Jazeera America reports, another charge DWSD denies. But privatization of the department is possible, Detroit has said, as the city works to lower its debt—$5 billion of which is tied to DWSD. (In slightly better news, last week Detroit got a $195 million life raft.)

This Oct. 24, 2012, photo shows an empty field north of Detroit's downtown.   (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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