Shutting off water service at the onset of summer is inhumane. If it were happening in a Third World country, we'd be outraged and demanding that the United Nations look into it immediately.
Only this time it's here in the U. S. of A., in Detroit, Michigan.
Since spring, up to 3000 Detroit households per week have been getting their water shut-off – for owing as little as $150 or two months in bills. Now it was the turn of Charity's block – and the contractor wouldn't stand to wait an hour for her pregnant neighbour to fill up some jugs.
"Where's your water termination notice?" Charity demanded, after staggering to the contractor's truck. A widely-respected African-American community leader, she has been at the forefront of campaigns to ensure Detroiters' right to public, accessible water.
The contractor's answer was to drive away, knocking Charity over and injuring her leg. Two white policemen soon arrived – not to take her report, but to arrest her. Mocking Charity for questioning the water shut-offs, they brought her to jail, where she spent two days before being released without charge.
Welcome to Detroit's water war – 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. Local activists estimate this could impact nearly half of Detroit's mostly poor and black population – between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
The UN is investigating, because these shutoffs do the gravest harm to people of color and the poorest of the city's poor, which leads to separation of children from their families.
Leilani Farha, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, voiced concern that children are being removed by social services from their families and homes because, without access to water, their housing is no longer considered adequate.
“If these water disconnections disproportionately affect African-Americans they may be discriminatory, in violation of treaties the United States has ratified,” she noted.
Under international human rights law, it is the State’s obligation to provide urgent measures, including financial assistance, to ensure access to essential water and sanitation.
As usual, the poor people are the pawns in the corporate Shock Doctrine game played by Detroit's unelected government:
The official rationale for the water shut-downs – the Detroit Water Department's need to recoup millions – collapses on inspection. Detroit's high-end golf club, the Red Wing's hockey arena, the Ford football stadium, and more than half of the city's commercial and industrial users are also owing – a sum totalling $30 million. But no contractors have showed up on their doorstep.
The targetting of Detroit families is about something else. It is a ruthless case of the shock doctrine – the exploitation of natural or unnatural shocks of crisis to push through pro-corporate policies that couldn't happen in any other circumstance.
The first shock was the slow disaster that struck Detroit over the last four decades: the flight of corporations toward cheaper, overseas labour; the movement of white, wealthier Detroiters to the suburbs, draining the city's tax base; a Wall Street-driven financial crisis that left many homeless or jobless; and the deliberate starving of the city of funds owed them by the Republican state legislature.
On its heels has come a round of economic shock therapy: taking advantage of the severe decline in revenue from Detroit's first shock, the media, corporations and right-wing politicians drummed up a crisis of fear about financial debt. This has become the pretext for a rapid-fire assault on Detroit's public resources: an attempt to dismantle its schools, to slash its pensions, and to transfer its parks and art and land into the hands of private corporations.
America already has walled itself off in terms of class and geography, Now we're going to wall off water. Wealthy people will have all they can drink and swim in, and the best views, protected by everyone else's money. Meanwhile, more and more citizens will find it harder to recreate along beautiful shorelines and in some cases almost as hard to find a drink of water that doesn't come from a pricey, environmentally unwise plastic bottle.
Moral: The seas are rising and ocean shorelines will have to be saved at great cost to benefit, mostly, a wealthy few. But if you're poor or even perhaps middle class, your community's shorelines may be seized to pay the debts of others, and the water that comes out of the taps in your home may be shut off because, hey, H2O is expensive. So go find a drinking fountain somewhere, if you can. Or drink champagne.