Detroit 'must ensure it does not contravene human right to water' UN official Catarina de Albuquerque says

Water department in US city is cutting off services to 150,000 delinquent accounts in a bid to plug gap of $118million in unpaid bills

A United Nations official has warned that the city of Detroit, if found to be cutting off the water services of people too poor to pay them, could be violating its human rights obligations.

Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, told The Independent that the water department should only be disconnecting the accounts of those who can pay but are unwilling to.

Despite receiving information from non-government organisations concerning the on-going situation, Ms de Albuquerque said she would need to know more before commenting specifically on Detroit, but that generally, water firms should be making adequate checks to ensure that each householder can pay but are refusing to, before they’re cut off.

“Disconnection of services for lack of means to pay may constitute a violation of the right to water,” she said.

“Disconnection due to non-payment is only permissible if it can be shown that the householder is able to pay but is not paying – in other words, that the tariff is affordable."

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has come under fire for shutting off the water to at least 150,000 customers who owe more than $150 or whose bills have lapsed more than 60 days.

Campaigners, however, say that water bills are not priced fairly: "In order to make the utility attractive to investors, lower-income households are being forced to pay exorbitant rates for their water," The Blue Planet Project says in a petition on its website.

More: Detroit has cut off the water supply to thousands of residents

It is argued by activists that the cut-offs are effecting the poorest and sick the hardest, as well as becoming a risk to public health. They have sent a plea to Ms de Albuquerque for UN help, stating that adequate provisions were not given to some residents and that the bills are "unaffordable to a signifcant portion of the population."

They also claim that city officials are preparing the balance sheets ready for privatisation at the expense of poor residents, without the water company “collecting on the arrears of business users, fixing leaking pipes, and cutting off services to abandoned homes.”

City officials say they need to recoup the money City officials say they need to recoup the money

DWSD disagrees, saying that of those who do receive shut off notices, only a small percent are actually cut off. It also said that many of the properties are "vacant structures, not occupied homes."

Defending its position, the department said: "The DWSD is working closely with its customers in Detroit who are delinquent in their payments to prevent avoidable water shut offs. 

"The department currently has more than 17,000 Detroit customers enrolled into a successful payment plan program that is designed to fit each customer’s financial situation and ability to pay. 

"Next month, the DWSD also plans to launch a new financial assistance program for the city’s indigent population."

It was revealed last week that Detroit residents will have their bills hiked by 8.7 per cent to an average of $70.67 (£41.50) a month.

“The affordability of water and sanitation services is an aspect of human rights, so there is a need to assess whether the reason for any non-payment is a genuine inability to pay or an unwillingness to pay; the impact of any disconnections for non-payment must be examined to make sure the action is necessary and proportionate,” Ms de Albuquerque added.

“If water service supplies are disconnected due to non-payment and this has been proven to be due to an inability to pay, there is an immediate obligation to ensure that the individual or household is immediately reconnected.”

De Albuquerque is the first Special Rapporteur on this theme, appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2008.

She in enlisted to provide recommendations to governments and other stakeholders.

Following an official mission to the US in 2011, she implored the US government to "adopt a federal standard to provide protection against water shut-offs for vulnerable groups and people living in poverty and due process guarantees in relation to water shut-offs."

In the UK, domestic water customers are protected by law in the access to water, with companies unable to disconnect or restrict water supply.

Thames Water said: "We don’t cut off a customer’s water supply if they’re having trouble paying their bill. We can’t and we wouldn’t. We try to help and support them."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicHunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original  manuscripts
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... while following the referendum
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week