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Published On: Thu, Jun 26th, 2014

Detroit turns to United Nations to fight water shutoffs, it’s an ‘affront to human rights’

With nearly half of Detroit’s residents delinquent on their water bills, the city reached out for help, just not from the US government, but rather the United Nations.

A United Nations team of experts said Wednesday that Detroit officials’ decision to shut off water service to thousands of residents who are late in paying bills is an affront to human rights.

photo TaxRebate.org.uk

photo TaxRebate.org.uk

“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,” the U.N. officials said in a news release. “Because of a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate, relatively expensive water bills in Detroit are unaffordable for a significant portion of the population.”

The U.N. assessment comes days after a coalition of welfare rights groups — including the Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch and Canada-based Blue Planet Project — pleaded in an open letter for the world body to intervene.

“Sick people have been left without running water and working toilets,” the report said. “People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook.”

The coalition issued a report on June 18 that contained the testimony of people who were affected by the service shutoffs and said they were given no warning.

Detroit’s water department, which is responsible for about $6 billion of the city’s $18 billion in debt, is one of the major issues in the bankruptcy. But unlike some debt that is not supported by revenue streams, water department debt is covered by bill-paying customers.

Earlier this year, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said it would be more assertive toward delinquent customers. About 46,000 shut-off notices were mailed out in May and service to 4,500 customers was cut over the past few weeks.

Of the customers shut off, “more than half of those came into the office and paid the accounts in full” within a day or two, department spokeswoman Curtrise Garner said. About 17,000 customers currently are on payment plans.

“If people are being proactive, we work with them,” Garner said. “But if we don’t hear anything, we don’t know if they are not paying or if they won’t pay.”

About 90,000 active customers in Detroit are delinquent on their bills to the tune of about $90 million, she added.

 

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About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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