Tag: Detroit

Water cut offs in Detroit a violation of human rights

By Guest Blogger Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of the Canadians and longtime partner of FLOW.
Read the original post here.

Maude Barlow Detroit MI Great Lakes

Maude Barlow speaks in Detroit, MI

I recently visited Detroit, Michigan and am shocked and deeply disturbed at what I witnessed. I went as part of a Great Lakes project where a number of communities and organizations around the basin are calling for citizens to come together to protect the Great Lakes as a Lived Commons, a Public Trust and a Protected Bioregion. We are also deeply worried about the threat of extreme energy such as diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta and fracked oil and fracking wastewater from North Dakota being transported by pipeline and rail near the lakes and on barges on the lakes and are calling for a ban of these dangerous toxins around and on the Great Lakes.

But the people of Detroit face another sinister enemy. Every day, thousands of them, in a city that is situated right by a body of water carrying one fifth of the world’s water supply, are having their water ruthlessly cut off by men working for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Most of the residents are African American and two thirds of the cut offs involve children, which means that in some cases, child welfare authorities are moving in to remove children from their homes as it is a requirement that there be working utilities in all homes housing children.

People are given no warning and no time to fill buckets, sinks and tubs. Sick people are left without running water and running toilets. People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook. Is this a small number of victims? No. The water department has decreed that it will turn the water off to all 120,000 residences that owe it money by the end of the summer although it has made no such threat to the many corporations and institutions that are in arrears on their bills as well. How did it come to this?

Detroit is a victim of decades of market driven neoliberal policy that put business and profit ahead of public good. Social security programs have been slashed and their delivery privatized. Investment in essential infrastructure has been slashed. Every winter, hundreds of aging pipes spew water from leaks and the water has not been turned off in thousands of abandoned houses and boarded up businesses where frozen pipes also lose huge amounts of water.

With globalization and the hollowing out of the once mighty auto industry, wealth and businesses fled to he suburbs, draining the city of its tax base and the water department of its revenues. (There are one million fewer people living in Detroit than there were in the 1950s.)

The burden of paying for the water and sewer services landed squarely on those who stayed, mostly poor African Americans. Rates rose 119% in a decade in a city with record high unemployment and a 40% poverty rate.

To make matters worse, as a cost cutting measure, the water department stopped sending bills, expecting residents to just figure out their own bills. It then installed “smart metres” that read backwards and many families were hit with bills in the thousands of dollars. Many of these bills were from former tenants, and many included water bills from near by abandoned houses but that didn’t matter to the authorities.

Recently, the city of Detroit was declared bankrupt by the state and a high priced bankruptcy lawyer was named Emergency Manager with a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially. Nothing is off the chopping block, not the city’s famous art collection or its water utilities which are about to be privatized. As the feisty Charity Hicks, a leader of the resistance to the cuts and a founding member of the Detroit People’s Water Board, which includes welfare and human rights groups and environmentalists, points out, authorities see these unpaid bills as a “bad debt” and want to sweeten the pot for a private buyer. Hence the rush to implement a ruthless plan of cut offs for anyone more than two months behind in payments.

It is important to acknowledge the class and race dimension of this assault. There have been no stories on the cut offs in the mainstream US media. One cannot imagine that fact if the people losing their water were middle class white people. But the feeling is that Detroit is a lost cause and the people there deserve what they are getting.

L Brooks Patterson is the elected CEO of the affluent Detroit suburb of Oakland. In a recent interview in the New Yorker, he affirmed that a statement he had made 30 years ago was still valid. “A number of years ago I made a prediction and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a wall around it and then throw in blankets and corn.'”

This man wins his elections with huge majorities.

What is happening in Detroit is a social crime and a violation of the human right to water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations. It is a violation of the “Obligation to Respect,” whereby a right once realized cannot be removed.

The situation in Detroit is a travesty and the governments of Michigan and the United States itself must be held accountable.

President Obama must step in.

As more and more of the public space is privatized and sold off to corporations, is this our collective future? Never before have the differences between the 1% and the poor been greater in America.

The daily cut offs of water in Detroit, water needed for life and dignity, are an affront to the notion that we have advanced very far in our understanding of human rights or in its practice. We all stand guilty if we do not shout out against this terrible injustice on our continent.

Photos: Maude Barlow Presentation in Detroit: Great Lakes and Water Privatization

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow panorama

The Wayne State Engineering Building auditorium was full for Maude Barlow’s presentation on Great Lakes and Water Privatization issues.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Will See speaking

Artist Will See opened the evening bringing a poetic voice to describe the situation of water issues in Detroit.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Olson speaking

FLOW Founder Jim Olson discussed the public trust as the legal basis for preventing the privatization of public water supplies, in Detroit and around the world.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Maude speaking

Keynote speaker Maude Barlow helped contextualize the issue of water privatization and shut-offs in Detroit in the scope of global water privatization struggles, and the ultimate successes of the public in maintaining cost-effective, shared water systems.

2014-05-22 PWB Barlow Gaia Women singing

The Gaia Women led the group in song to close the evening, “to connect the head to the heart” and capture the essence of the importance of water both physically and spiritually.

2014-05-23 PWB and Maude Barlow

Maude joined a number of People’s Water Board Coalition members after her presentation.

World Renowned Water Activist, Maude Barlow, to Speak on Regional Water Issues in Detroit

Click here to view and download the press release as a PDF.

May 14, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Liz Kirkwoood, Executive Director

231 944 1568 or liz@flowforwater.org

World Renowned Water Activist, Maude Barlow, to Speak on Regional Water Issues in Detroit

Detroit, Mich. – On Thursday, May 22 at 6:30 p.m. the People’s Water Board Coalition will partner with Wayne State University’s Office of Sustainability to host a special discussion on regional Great Lakes water issues and public trust with Maude Barlow.

Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of the national consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. Barlow is the recipient of eleven honorary doctorates as well as many awards, including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alternative Nobel”), the Citation of Lifetime Achievement at the 2008 Canadian Environment Awards, and the 2009 Earth Day Canada Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award. She is also the best-selling author or co-author of 17 books.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) recently announced its plan to shut-off water at thousands of Detroit residences. At the same time Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager, Kevyn Orr, has announced his intention to privatize DWSD, the drinking water provider for roughly four-million people in southeast Michigan. This event will highlight the benefits of protecting our water systems from private interests, and why public control is the key to ensuring safe, clean, affordable water for all.

Barlow will be available after the event to sign copies of her new book Blue Future.

This event is free and open to the public.

Who:  People’s Water Board Coalition

Speakers: Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians; Jim Olson, Founder, President and Advisor of FLOW (For Love of Water); others to be announced.

When: Thursday, May 22, 2014, Doors at 6:00 p.m. Program 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Marvin I. Danto Engineering Development Center
5050 Anthony Wayne Drive
Engineering Development Center (EDC)
Auditorium, Room 1507,
Detroit, MI  48202

Parking: Parking Structure 2 – 5150 Lodge Service Drive, Detroit, MI 48202

The cost is $6.50. There is also metered 2-hour parking located on the street. The cost for 2 hours is $2 at a meter.

The People’s Water Board includes: AFSCME Local 207, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Detroit Green Party, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Food & Water Watch, FLOW, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Matrix Theater, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, Sierra Club and Voices for Earth Justice.

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FLOW is the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes.

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