Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Are Americans being denied fundamental right to water?

A city’s residents are seeking help from the United Nations toward getting a fundamental human need attended to. Not a third-world city, mind you, but a major city in the United States bordering the largest body of surface fresh water on the planet.
Detroit households are losing water service in record numbers. Due to falling behind on payment of monthly bills, as many as 3,000 households had their water cut off every week between March and June. After a moratorium was lifted when a judge ruled out an “enforceable right” to water, the cut-offs have recently been resumed. Every day, up to 400 additional Detroit households are losing water service, as “Democracy Now” reported on Oct. 10.
As to the human right to water — it being quintessential to life itself — the possible scarcity of it was not considered during the United Nations’ founding in 1948. Though not included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights initially, the world body now, in July 2010, added clean drinking water and sanitation access to the elements universally accepted as “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.”
The affirmation of clean water as a basic human right makes it binding upon governments to assure affordable and equitable access to it for all citizens. To its credit, the Obama administration joined the other world leaders in acknowledging this right and corresponding government responsibility.
As to long-term water sufficiency and related physical causes, a world population heading toward 8 to 9 billion and droughts and spreading deserts due to climate destabilization today are much on planners’ radar. The world could be “Running on Empty” soon was the theme of TVA’s “Forum” magazine a decade ago.
As to other causes of worry — service privatization schemes, infrastructure and economic barriers, and a view of water as a free-market, for-profit commodity instead of basic right — often add obstacles to the affordable provision of it.
Detroit seems such a case, tragic and shameful, where economic forces can end up depriving citizens of their water access right.
A thriving manufacturing hub only a generation ago, many of the factories have since located offshore or mechanized, erasing jobs and dwindling the population.
Once the fifth largest U.S. city, it now ranks 18th in city size and at the bottom in employment options for remaining residents, nearly a quarter of these being unemployed and nearly 40 percent having to make do on poverty-rate income.
In Jonesborough over the last decade, combined water and sewerage charges rose 35 percent. In Detroit, where a system built for millions must now be maintained by a fraction of former users, due to flight of jobs and the affluent from the city, they rose 119 percent.
The universal right to water is not intended as a free for all, for possible wasteful or other avoidable uses. But when citizens through no fault of their own cannot pay, for reasons of basic respect and dignity, if not of personal and public health, water service should still be provided them. Especially in the world’s richest country.