Capitalism vs. Water Rights in Detroit City

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:45 p.m. DST, 26 June 2014

Hotel Granwood, Detroit, Michigan, Photo by  无忌 王伟

DETROIT, Michigan -- Despite numerous plans initiated by Detroit to encourage its residents to remain in the city, the once great Midwestern city of Detroit has done an about face.

In an otherwise tragic situation, some might say that rapacious forces now endeavor to further disenfranchise the hardscrabble, poorest of the poor who have toughed out the deteriorating living conditions in what was once known as Motor City.

In recent months the City of Detroit has gradually cut off public water access to its most impoverished and vulnerable residents. Since the water was shut off, "sick people have been left without running water and working toilets, and people recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages, nor can parents prepare food for their children to eat."

Water rights groups are calling the move calculated and designed to enable the city to shed its books of impoverished consumers who are unable and likely for the foreseeable future, remain unable to pay their water bills.

Technically, the Detroit Water Department is within its legal right to disconnect service for non-payment, but many of the people who have been impacted were not given notice of their impending water disconnection. The net effect was that thousands of people have lost access to public water.

In May and June when the disconnections began and water dried up around the city, a collective of human rights and water rights activists began to protest for Detroit to open up water pipelines, calling the move an attack on basic human rights. Multiple organizations in the community appealed to the United Nations to condemn these practices and bring international attention to the plight of these citizens.

Their efforts bore fruit, when news reports announced today that the U.N. has condemned the city of obstructing water rights which is a human rights violation. This is a clear cut case of blocking fair access to water rights by the poor, and puts America on par with other countries that have chosen to 'commoditize' water thus making it cost prohibitive and unaffordable for its poorest citizen.

Examples include, Bolivia, India, and Tanzania among others as detailed in an article by Anup Shahin, titled Water and Development. The statistics on this global problem of inadequate access to water and corporate greed is one that will only worsen.

Clearly, water termination disrupts basic health and wellness at a fundamental level. That an American city is subjecting its citizenry to these horrendous conditions is at odds with the perception that is promoted about the United States, both internationally and domestically. One which promulgates an image of equality for rich and poor, and that this country is free from many of the ills which plague developing nations.

This paradoxical move to cut water when the city is engaged in a campaign to encourage inbound migration, gentrification, and renovation of the iconic city only highlights the fact that its interests lies not with the populace but with the privileged. The infusion of millions of dollars into the city coffers from corporate developers as the city seeks to move out of bankruptcy, makes Detroit's squabbling over a few unpaid months of water bills all the more ludicrous.

Although, around 5,000 Detroiter's water has been cut off already, the city has plans to cut water access to 30,000 more households this year. Like so many cases in American politics and economics, the people at the top are quick to look down on the people at the bottom and assign blame and inflict upon them an untenable burden.

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