Human rights experts from the United Nations have expressed their concern about reports of widespread water disconnections throughout the city of Detroit in households unable to pay water bills. The three experts, who specialise in human rights relating to water and sanitation, adequate housing, and extreme poverty, said that “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.”

United Nations Human Rights Index, Detroit, Michigan, City of Detroit, water disconnections, water shortages, water bills

In a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Index, Catarina de Albuquerque, the expert on the human right to water and sanitation, said: “Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying. In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.”

What has reportedly been happening in the City of Detroit is that Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been disconnecting water services from households who have not paid bills for two months. The firm has accelerated the process since early June, with the number of disconnections rising to around 3,000 customers per week. As a result, some 30,000 households are expected to be disconnected from water services over the next few months.

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Why the large number of shut offs? Because the city has a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate. As a result, relatively expensive water bills in Detroit are unaffordable for a significant portion of the population.

On top of the lack of water, 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. “If these water disconnections disproportionately affect African Americans they may be discriminatory, in violation of treaties the US has ratified,” Farha added.

De Albuquerque also added to the concern saying: “When I conducted an official country mission to the US in 2011, I encouraged the US Government to adopt a federal minimum standard on affordability for water and sanitation and a standard to provide protection against disconnections for vulnerable groups and people living in poverty. I also urged the Government to ensure due process guarantees in relation to water disconnection.”

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. “The households which suffered unjustified disconnections must be immediately reconnected,” the experts said.

Your move, Detroit.

+ Universal Human Rights Index

Via Huffington Post

Lead images of tap via Shutterstock, and Dean (leu)  and Dave Hogg