Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

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Update on Detroit Water Shutoffs

July 30, 2014

In the weeks since mass water shutoffs in Detroit, Mich., started making national and international news, so much has happened. First, we want to thank all of you who have supported Detroit in this hour of need. Together, we’re helping create the moral and political pressure that can lead — and already is leading — to real change.

We celebrate the progress being made (see below for more details!). And we know that these are just the first steps in a longer journey, both in Detroit and in places throughout the country where people are being denied their human right to water.

Latest developments

  • The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced a 15-day moratorium on water shutoffs.
  • Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr handed authority over DWSD back to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

What UUSC has done with your support

  • Provided critical legal support to the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), a UUSC partner that is leading efforts to assist residents affected by water shutoffs.
  • Supported lawyers working on a class action suit against the City of Detroit on behalf of affected residents.
  • Organized a letter from UUSC President Bill Schulz and Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, raising moral and human rights concerns to select officials.
  • Joined MWRO, the Michigan UU Social Justice Network (MUUSJN), the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), allies from the United Methodist Church, and leading academic experts in filing a legal petition that effectively asks that people for whom a water shutoff poses an extraordinary burden and risk to health — children under six years old, low-income seniors, persons with disabilities, and people which chronic illness — be protected against water shutoffs.
  • Gathered and delivered to select officials more than 6,000 signatures from members and supporters — including lay and religious leaders and organizations — on a petition to stop the shutoffs and restore service.
  • Collaborated with MUUSJN, local UU activists, and area clergy to support the growing regional capacity of UUs to respond to water justice in Michigan now and in the future.
  • Worked with ICCR to begin asking local corporate headquarters to pressure DWSD to stop water shutoffs.
  • Strengthened local and national awareness about the human right to water through media coverage.
  • Assisted — through communications, legal research, and partner connections — an investigation of the Detroit situation by the U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

Moving forward — and beyond Detroit

So far, a reported 15,000 households have not had their water service restored. We are committed to working with our local partners on next steps. We hope, if schedule allows, that the U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation will visit Detroit in the next few months.

At the same time, it’s important to look beyond Detroit. Access to clean and affordable water is not just an issue there; there are many cities and rural areas in the United States with similar challenges. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out steps to address the affordability of water and sanitation services at the national level. Stay tuned — we’ll be inviting you to take action to ensure that access to water doesn’t depend on your bank account or skin color.

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