In the wake of economic depression and municipal bankruptcy the city of Detroit, Michigan has issued a series of controversial water shutoffs for residents with overdue water and sewage bills. The high cost of water in Detroit, combined with its high unemployment and poverty rates, makes access to running water in residents’ homes too expensive for many people to afford.
In the Detroit water shutoffs, the US does not violate explicit obligations of its constitution or international treaties that it has ratified. However, the UN and Amnesty International have both issued statements criticizing the US for its actions surrounding this event. These organizations have argued that the international body of law establishes a right to water and that it is a prerequisite to other rights.
It is established international state practice to recognize the right to water, as evinced by treaties including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Furthermore, because water is a necessary prerequisite to life, it may be regarded as a necessary prerequisite to many rights, if not all. Without water, there is no life. In order to remedy this, the right to water should be addressed at all levels of government. The inadequate protection of the right to water, if left unchecked, could have devastating consequences in the future.
The events in Detroit should be a catalyst within the international human rights community to create protections for this essential right.