COMMENTARY: Denying Detroiters Water Is A Human Rights Tragedy

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“The households which suffered unjustified disconnections must be immediately reconnected,” UN Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha told reporters. “If these water disconnections disproportionately affect African-Americans they may be discriminatory, in violation of treaties the U.S. has ratified.”

The water utility company says its owed $90 million from customers and they will do whatever it takes to collect – which means cutting water to children and senior citizens. Detroit has an off-the-charts high unemployment rate and many Detroiters who lost their jobs got behind on their water utility bills because they are not working. To make it worse, the water company raised its rates during an economic downturn. In the past 10 years, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent as the city experienced bankruptcy, an economic meltdown, and a state takeover.

Last week, the Detroit City Council approved an 8.7 percent increase in water rates in addition to the initial water rate hike. No wonder Detroit residents are behind on their water bills. Detroit is one of the poorest big cities in America and its population is 93% Black. Black people are suffering, the result of massive layoffs over the years from the auto industry and a general collapse of Detroit’s economy.

On a recent trip to Detroit, I drove through neighborhoods where boarded-up homes stretched for blocks; it looked more like a war zone than a once thriving city where Motown was born. What about sick people? What about the elderly? Where is the compassion for fellow human beings?

“Are we the kind of people that resort to shutting water off when there are disabled people and seniors?” said Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told reporters. “We live near the Great Lakes, we have the greatest source of fresh water on Earth, and we still can’t get water here.”

It seems to me that the federal government could intervene.

It bailed out greedy bankers on Wall Street; it bailed out the auto industry; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the government bail out of the water-deprived residents of Detroit.

They deserve better. What do you think?

(Photo: AP)

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