‘We Are Hiding Out With No Water’: Detroit Privatizers Deny People Their Right To Water


‘We Are Hiding Out With No Water’: Detroit Privatizers Deny People Their Right To Water
The water shutoffs in Detroit is nothing but a ploy to drive Blacks from the city

AFRICANGLOBE – “We are hiding out in our own house with no water,” Shelah, a 15-year-old youth and poverty skola whispered on the phone to me. She went on to tell me she and her mama and 9-year-old brother were among thousands of poor families who have had their water service cut off in the last few months by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Since spring, up to 3,000 Detroit households per week have been getting their water shut off – for owing as little as $150 or two months in bills. This is the Detroit facing water privatization in which upward of 150,000 customers, late on bills that have increased 119 percent in the last decade, are now threatened with shut-offs. Detroit organizers estimate this could impact nearly half of Detroit’s mostly poor and Black population – between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

Privatization is the U.S. corporate answer to everything, and to Detroit, like Chicago and New Orleans and Oakland and hundreds of other U.S. cities, this means the private corporate theft of all of our public resources, including schools, parks, streets and housing. As us poor folks know, the result is we end up water-less, house-less, street-less and park-less – gentrified out of our own neighborhoods, schools and communities and shuttled into the biggest profit-maker of them all: plantation prisons.

This is nothing new. Poor people are always getting our so-called public utilities shut off. When me and my mother were dealing with our life-long poverty and about to be homeless in Oakland, all of our utilities were cut off. The first thing that happened was my mother was afraid CPS would find out and mark her as “negligent.” This is part of the deep criminalization and Catch 22 that poor families face all the time, causing us to not even seek so-called “help” for fear of more theft, removal and criminalization.

“My friend was put into foster care after her water got cut off,” Shelah whispered. She and her brother are among the many children who are now at risk of seizure by Children’s Separation Service, as it might as well be called, because after they take everything away from us poor folks, then they threaten to take our children. “That’s when we went into hiding,” she concluded.

Grassroots organizers have been fighting back.

A coalition of grassroots groups like Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch and Canada-based Blue Planet Project issued a report on June 18 containing the testimony of people who are affected by the service shut-offs and said they were given no warning. They submitted the report, “Submission to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation regarding water cutoffs in the City of Detroit, Michigan,” to the United Nations naming these shut-offs as a violation of human rights.

The U.N. answered back: “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 public water system, a prized resource worth billions and sitting on the Great Lakes, is now the latest target of the private developers – and these mass water shut-offs of our people’s homes are a way to make the so-called public utility more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.

As poor folks, our so-called public resources are always under attack, our so-called free lives, which were used, stolen and exploited to build this stolen land they call Amerikkka, are always at risk of eviction, displacement, gentrification, death by police terror and/or incarceration. This is why us poor and landless stolen and diaspora Afrikans, criminalized, false bordered, indigenous and poor people are actively creating an international model for poor people-led change we call Homefulness in Deep East Oakland where we take our stolen resources back, self-determined by us, and teach descendants of stolen wealth hoarders to redistribute their families’ stolen and hoarded blood-stained dollars.

And this model needs to be practiced across the United Snakkkes of Amerikkka and the world so these violations of our human bodies, our communities and our land will cease to occur.

By: Lisa Gray-Garcia 

MORE: As water Crisis In Detroit Escalates, Groups Pressure United Nations To Take Action

In March 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it would begin shutting off water ser­vice for 1,500 to 3,000 customers every week if their water bills were not paid, and now the City Council has approved an 8.7 percent water rate increase. According to a recent DWSD document, more than 80,000 residential households are in arrears.

With thousands of families now without water, and thousands more expected to lose access at any moment, a group of concerned organizations has submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, urging authorities to take immediate action to restore water services and stop further cutoffs. The report was released by the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food and Water Watch.

“By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water,” said Blue Planet Project Founder and Food and Water Watch Board Chair Maude Barlow. “After decades of policies that put businesses and profits ahead of the public good, the city now has a major crisis on its hands. It is shocking and abominable that anyone would be subjected to these conditions.”

Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent. With unemployment rates at a record high and the poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population. Many of those affected by the shut-offs were given no warning. The infirm have been left without water and functioning toilets, children cannot bathe and parents cannot adequately prepare food for their families.

“When delinquent corporate water lines are still running without collection of funds, it demonstrates a level of intentional disparity that devalues the lives of the people struggling financially. Where is our compassion? Where is our humanity?” asked Lila Cabbil, president emeritus of the Rosa Parks Institute.

In 2013, Detroit declared bankruptcy and appointed Kevyn Orr as emergency manager, giving him a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially. Orr has since taken steps to privatize the DWSD, and many now believe that the water shut-offs are an attempt to appeal to potential investors.

In the Great Lakes region, large, private water companies charge households on average more than twice as much as rates charged by comparable publicly-controlled systems. Moreover, private operation has been linked to poor service, workforce reductions, maintenance backlogs, water leaks and sewage spills.

The Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food and Water Watch make the following recommendations:

  • We call on the state of Michigan and the U.S. government to respect the human right to wa­ter and sanitation.
  • We call on the city to restore services to households that have been cut off immediately.
  • We call on the city to abandon its plan for further cutoffs.
  • We call on the federal and state governments to work with the city to ensure a sustainable public financing plan and rate structure that would prevent a transfer of the utility’s finan­cial burden onto residents who are currently paying exorbitant rates for their water ser­vices.
  • We call for fair water rates for the residents of Detroit.
  • We call on the City of Detroit to implement the original water affordability program.


By: Meera Karunananthan and Kate Fried


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