News Release

Condemned by UN, Is Detroit’s Water Shutoff About Privatization?


AP is reporting: “U.N. experts say water shutoffs at Detroit homes due to overdue bills violate international human rights.

“Right to water and sanitation expert Catarina de Albuquerque says Wednesday that disconnections due to non-payment are ‘only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying.’

“The statement follows a letter sent this week to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by welfare rights groups who complain that mass shutoffs by Detroit’s water department are leaving poor people at risk.” See the complaint to the U.N. and the U.N.’s response. Also see from the Detroit Free Press: “U.S. Rep. John Conyers calls Detroit water shutoffs inhumane.”

Wurth is water program director for Food & Water Watch, Fried is policy communications director for the group. They just released a statement with other groups: “This is a major crisis. When 45 percent of water customers struggle to pay their water bills, it is clear that this is not just a problem with delinquent payment. It’s indicative of broader, systemic issues resulting from decades of policies that put profits before people. Because leasing or selling the DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewerage Department] will only lead to more problems, Mayor Duggan and Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr should abandon all plans to privatize the DWSD.” The other groups signing the statement include the Blue Planet Project, The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and The Detroit People’s Water Board.

THOMAS STEPHENS, thomasstephens2043 at
Stephens is a lifelong resident of metro Detroit. A lawyer, he is one of the coordinators of the communications working group for Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM).

Along with Wurth, he just appeared on a Real News segment: “‘A Commercially Successful Human Rights Violation’ in Detroit.”
Stephens said today: “Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr are shutting off water from thousands of Detroiters — as many as 120,000 homes or more — while privatizing the water system.

“The objective is to improve their debt picture pending reorganization and/or sale of DWSD. Lines at their ‘customer service’ offices often stretch around the block, and reinstallation may be denied unless exorbitant fees are paid, on top of the actual service costs, and birth certificates and deeds produced as well.”

Stephens wrote a piece last year about Detroit for CounterPunch: “One critical example of the structural economic violence driving Detroit’s corporate Jones Day-implemented ‘restructuring’ is Wall Street’s treatment of the city’s huge water and sewerage department. If you look at a map of the Great Lakes region and locate Detroit, you can immediately see why such an agency, responsible for providing potable water for more than 3 million people, and treating millions of gallons per day of contaminated waste water, in the heart of the greatest concentration of fresh water resources on the planet, is a major public health, environmental protection and economic development asset of primary importance. So much so that Michigan state officials have literally been trying to take it over for more than 140 years. And it is about to become a front-burner political hot potato in the Detroit bankruptcy case.”