Detroit’s water company announced in March that it would be shutting off the taps of over 3000 residents who are behind on their bills. The shutoffs are part of a new iniative to crack down on customers in arrears. Community activists have appealed to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation for help. They argue that the city is gouging its poorest residents and violating their human rights in the process:
“What we see is a violation of the human right to water,” said Meera Karunananthan, an international campaigner with the Blue Planet Project. “The U.S. has international obligations in terms of people’s right to water, and this is a blatant violation of that right. We’re hoping the U.N. will put pressure on the federal government and the state of Michigan to do something about it.”
The groups accuse DWSD of charging unaffordable rates to Detroit citizens, and placing the burden of the city’s fleeing tax base on its poorest residents. They say DWSD is trying to rid itself of low-income customers in a bid to make the utility more attractive for a private takeover. DWSD denies the charge. But the city has acknowledged that at least a partial privatization of DWSD is being considered as Detroit attempts to shed some of its $18 billion in debt. DWSD accounts for $5 billion of that sum. [Al Jazeera America]
The water company says it’s not being malicious. Half of its 323,000 accounts are reportedly in arrears and the company is owed $175 million dollars in unpaid water bills. Officials tried to ease the strain on the company by integrating it with the water systems of some wealthier communities, but the deal fell through. There is talk of privatizing Detroit’s water system.
[Photo credit: “Detroit River Days 2012,” by JoyVanBuhler, Creative Commons.]