• Press Release

Detroit: Access To Essential Water Is A Human Right

July 18, 2014

Contact: Amanda Simon [email protected],(212) 633-4162, @AIUSAmedia
(NEW YORK) The disconnection of water service to households which are struggling in Detroit’s current economy and cannot pay their water bill is a violation of the right to water.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has been disconnecting water services from households which have not paid bills for two months or have a balance of $150 or more.  
It is imperative that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department restore service of water to any occupied home or residence and implement a payment plan that takes into account each individual homeowner’s ability to pay.   
Groups are urging DWSD and the City of Detroit to implement a more comprehensive Water Affordability Plan which would require DWSD to provide funding to income-eligible residents in order to pay their water bills at a discounted rate and to manage any arrearages. Amnesty International is urging authorities of DWSD and the City of Detroit to listen to all solutions being proposed by impacted communities and their advocates in order to come to a solution that does not involve the cessation of water to residents of Detroit.  
Steven W. Hawkins, AIUSA executive director, said: “Access to essential water is a human right. Deprivation of this basic right can not only cause a sanitation catastrophe for these families but could result in their children being removed due to an inability to pay for water.”
According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, and the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, “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.”  Leilani Farha, the expert on the right to adequate housing, expressed concern that children are being removed by social services from their families and homes because, without access to water, their housing is no longer considered adequate. 
“We cannot be a society that truly values human rights if we allow impoverished families to have their water shut off, even as sports arenas, a golf course and half the city’s commercial users – all also behind on payments to the tune of $30 million—have reportedly not received notices,” said Hawkins.
The rights to water and sanitation require that they be available, accessible, safe, acceptable and affordable for all without discrimination.  According to international human rights law, it is the State’s obligation to provide urgent measures, including financial assistance, to ensure access to essential water and sanitation.  States are required to ensure everyone’s access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses, defined as water for drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, and personal and household hygiene. States are also obliged to progressively ensure access to adequate sanitation, as a fundamental element for human dignity and privacy, but also to protect the quality of drinking-water supplies and resources.  
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.