My guest today is Emma Lui, Water Campaigner for The Council of Canadians. Welcome to OpEdNews, Emma. Your organization has shown an ongoing concern for the water "situation" in Detroit. Please fill our readers in as to what's going on.
Thanks for inviting me, Joan! In March, the city of Detroit announced it would begin shutting off water services to 1,500 to 3,000 households every week. We worked with Detroit organizations to make a submission to Catarina De Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation. The Detroit People's Water Board, who we worked with on the submission, heard directly from people whose water had been cut off that they were given no warning and no time to fill buckets or sinks before losing their water. Sick people have no running water or working toilets. People recovering from surgery have not been able to wash or change bandages. Children are unable to bathe and parents have no water to cook or clean. Catarina de Albuquerque warned that the mass water shut-offs were a violation of human rights.
In July, Maude Barlow, the Windsor chapter of the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, allies and myself went on water convoy from Windsor to Detroit. We brought 50 five-gallon jugs (1000 litres) to our friends in Detroit to draw attention to the human rights violations happening in Detroit and to call upon President Obama to declare a public health crisis. There has been fervent opposition from many to the cut offs, including actor Mark Ruffalo.
In the summer, the city placed a moratorium on the cutoffs due to public pressure but restarted the cutoffs at the end of August. Lawyer Alice Jennings filed a motion for bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to place a restraining order on the cutoffs. However, Judge Rhodes disappointingly ruled that he didn't have jurisdiction and has allowed the cutoffs to continue. An UN convoy including the Special Rapporteurs on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation and Housing will be going to Detroit on a fact finding mission from October 18-20. And we are very glad they are. All levels of government have an obligation to respect uphold the human right to water and sanitation.
I don't know anything about The Council of Canadians. In fact, I had never heard of your organization before this. Is it unusual for you to get involved in an action across the border?
Not at all. Water knows no borders so we do work outside of Canada. Through our Blue Planet Project, we work on issues around the Great Lakes and around the world. We promote water justice based on the principles that water is a human right, a public trust, and a global commons. You can read more about our Blue Planet Project here.
When we began this interview, the UN convoy's scheduled visit Detroit was yet to happen. Did they come? If so, what happened?
At the invitation of civil society organizations, the Special Rapporteurs on housing and water and sanitation visited Detroit at the end of October to learn about the impacts of the shutoffs on human rights. Hundreds of people attended a town hall meeting to testify how they lacked water for drinking, cooking, bathing and flushing toilets. The Special Rapporteurs issued yet another warning that people should not be deprived of water services if they cannot pay their bills and recommended that the city restore water connections. Mayor Mike Duggan said he was "disappointed" by the Rapporteurs' findings. Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, even said the United Nations was misinformed. It was shocking to see the Mayor and his staff brush off UN Special Rapporteurs. So the city is continuing the shutoffs through Christmas and winter.
I can't imagine how people are coping. I'm in Chicago and it's well below freezing here. What now, Emma?
We launched a Christmas music videowhich calls on Obama to stop the cutoffs that are continuing through the holiday season.. I think you'll recognize the tune!
I hope your initiative helps. I understand that your organization has put together a Christmas parody in honor of Detroit's beleaguered residents. Can you tell us about that?
Happy New Year. I hope you had a great holiday. Yes, we launched the parody to continue to draw attention to the cutoffs which continued through the holidays and are continuing through the winter. You likely saw the press release which can be read here. President Obama really needs to step in. Despite what Judge Rhodes said, water IS a human right and governments have a legal obligation to uphold it.
Agreed! Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up, Emma?
All good, Joan. Thanks for the opportunity!
The Council of Canadians: Acting for Social Justice
Christmas music video of solidarity with Detroit
my previous interview on the subject:
Detroit's Emergency Manager Shuts Off Water for Thousands of Homes; Is Your City Next? 6.29.2014