COMMENTARY: Denying Detroiters Water Is A Human Rights Tragedy

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  • It’s not a stretch to compare Detroit to a third-world country. Not anymore. It’s been seven weeks since water has been turned off to thousands of Detroit residents, many of them unemployed, many of them with families and children, some of them single mothers who are barely making ends meet, in a city where the poverty rate is about 40 percent.

    It’s unconscionable that people like Nicole Hill don’t have water to wash dirty dishes, take showers or baths, wash clothes and flush toilets in the sweltering summer heat.

    “It’s frightening, because you think this is something that only happens somewhere like Africa,” said Hill, a single mother, told The Los Angeles Times. “But now I know what they’re going through — when I get somewhere there’s a water faucet, I drink until my stomach hurts.”

    Thousands of people in Detroit – my hometown – had their water turned off because they were behind on their bills. In April, the city cut service to 3,000 customers a week who were more than $150 in debt to the water utility company. And in May, the city threatened to cut service to another 4,531 residents.

    All told, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said it would begin shutting off service to more than 150,000 customers who were behind in their bills, according to the Detroit Free Press. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And it borders on criminal. And it’s become – quite correctly — a human rights issue.

    A coalition of human rights groups appealed to the United Nations saying they are “outraged about the violation of the human right to water and sanitation in the City of Detroit and call on the authorities to take immediate action to restore water services and stop further cut-offs. The United Nations experts declared that the city of Detroit’s denial of water to thousands of residents who are unable to pay their bills “constitutes a violation of the human right to water” and may be discriminatory against African-Americans.

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