Affirm Water as a Human Right in Detroit
What You Can Do
The world is watching as thousands of low-income people of Detroit are having their water shut off in mass due to non-payment by the local Water and Sewerage Department. The United Nations has declared water to be a human right. “When there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections”, said Catarina de Albuquerque, a UN expert on the human right to water and sanitation.
MUUSJN has been working with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and with local activists to respond to this crisis. This email provides an update on what's going on and what you can do.
Click here to read an op ed commentary on this water crisis published in today's Detroit Free Press signed by representatives of the Blue Planet Project, Food and Water Watch, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Sierra Club.
Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Rev. William Schultz, President of the UUSC, have signed the attached letter that will be sent to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; Kevyn Orr, City of Detroit Emergency Manager; and Susan McCormick, Director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, that expresses concern about the serious impacts resulting from the mass water shut-offs announced by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. MUUSJN has supported a UUSC invitation to Southeast Michigan UU clergy to sign-on to this letter.
Background on the Water Crisis in Detroit
- According to an article in the July 9th Detroit Free Press, the City of Detroit shut off the water to 7,210 customers in June 2014 for non-payment of their water bills. Another 7,500 customer's taps were shut off in April and May;
- Over 36% of Detroit residents live below poverty (including 60% of its children) according to Data Driven Detroit demographer Kurt Metzger;
- About 79,000 residential customers, according to Water Department staff Curtrise Garner, are past due an average of $529, a total over $41 million;
- This situation is a tragedy for thousands of families who now must worry about the practical problems of not having water to drink, to bathe and to flush their toilets. They also fear they might lose their children to social services if they are deemed unable to care for their children (see “Why Detroit is cutting off tap water to thousands of people”, Vox, July 8, 2014;
- The City could have settled this water debt problem more fairly and humanely by screening its customers in advance for their ability to pay. Some argue this rush to shut off citizens' water, regardless of the impact on poor families, would enhance the City's sale of the Water and Sewerage Department to the private sector;
- Even though the Detroit Free Press announced on July 9th a new $1 million fund (generated from water customer donations) to help low income customers to pay their water bills, this fund is only a drop in the bucket of the $41 million still owed by residential customers;
- To add insult to injury, the largest unpaid Detroit water bills come from privileged commercial customers that have NOT had their water shut off. Vargo Golf (with six suburban golf courses) owes over $588,000. The City of Detroit's Palmer Park owes over $422,000. Click here for more information.
What You Can Do:
- Click here to sign a UUSC petition (by this Thursday) to be delivered to local officials.
- Click here to contribute water, volunteer time or funds to help pay low income Detroit residents' water bills.
- Click here for your congregation or allied organization to sign this UUSC petition that will be delivered to local officials.
Thank you for considering this opportunity to stand up for worth and dignity of every human being.
Together, we can do great things!
Randy Block, DirectorMichigan UU Social Justice Network