THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER:
RESEARCH GUIDE & ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY
by Jootaek Lee & Maraya Best
This guide supports research on the human right to water. First it defines the right and identifies some of the challenges of research in the field. Next, it delineates international standards and institutional mechanisms designed to protect those affected by the denial of this human right. Finally, it selectively reviews current literature that provides useful starting points for contemporary research on the right to water.
“A panel of experts, including physicians, called for a declaration of a public health emergency in the city on Wednesday and have accused city health officials of ignoring a hospital study which found a correlation between water shutoffs and water-related illnesses…”
Matthew Kovac of the Great Lakes Beacon interviewed Monica of We the People of Detroit for a story on the potential that the Detroit mayor’s office has been effectually silencing communications of the results of the recent research study conducted by Henry Ford Health System’s Global Health Initiative and We the People of Detroit.
Excerpt below – read the full article here:
“‘All we know is that we were told by representatives of Henry Ford Health Systems and the Global Health Initiative that they could not speak to the issues because it would jeopardize some of their negotiations for contracts with the city of Detroit,’ Lewis-Patrick said. ‘They were not allowing anyone to speak to these issues because of fear of reprisal from the mayor of Detroit. So it goes back to the mayor.’
Lewis-Patrick noted the positive impact of some of Henry Ford’s city contracts, like their health centers in Detroit schools, but said they must not come at the expense of informing Detroiters about the dangers of the city’s shutoff policy.
‘The health and welfare of Detroiters should be the first concern and priority of both the mayor and Henry Ford Health Systems,’ Lewis-Patrick said.”
Bridge Magazine has published an article on the Detroit water crisis and We the People of Detroit’s co-research project with the Henry Ford Global Health Initiative.
“The records showed that patients who lived on a block with shutoffs were 1.55 times more likely to have a water-associated illness, even when other socioeconomic situations are taken into consideration.
Water activists used the findings to renew their call for a moratorium on the shutoffs, and planned to begin a robo-call campaign this week bringing the issue to the attention of city residents.
‘Common sense tells us that you can’t deprive tens of thousands of people of water and not suffer serious public health consequences,’ said Monica Lewis-Patrick of the We the People group.”
“Because of the innovation and forward thinking of We the People of Detroit (WTP www.wethepeopleofdetroit.com), an organization that has responded consistently to the water shutoff crisis in Detroit, many residents were able to access clean water during the boil water advisory that left most of Detroit without water. In 2014, during the height of the water crisis, WTP set up water stations and began door-to-door campaigns to assess the needs of Detroiters. They also started an emergency phone line in order to provide rapid response support to disabled and elderly residents, advocated at City Council meetings and elsewhere for the Water Affordability Plan first proposed by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the People’s Water Board Coalition many years ago. We the People Research Collective has published Mapping the Water Crisis, a book which documents the targeting of Black neighborhoods with the conflated assaults of water shut-offs and home foreclosures. The book is a powerful asset in the struggle for water as a human right.”
WPD took part in the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) at Wayne State University and are featured in a Deceleration reportback.
“Monica Lewis-Patrick discussed how the work of We the People of Detroit started around the effects of emergency management on public education, but shifted to water access after Charity Hicks, a community leader and water protector who passed in 2014, was arrested for speaking out against the shut offs in her neighborhood. Via the People’s Water Board, Lewis-Patrick, Taylor, and numerous others organized a hotline for reporting shut offs, emergency water stations, and community research efforts to document the extent of the crisis, even publishing a book last year on the basis of this research, entitled ‘Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit.’ Lewis-Patrick spoke powerfully about how, out of 126 municipalities in the region, Detroit and Flint, communities with large Black populations, were the only two with a water shut-off policy for delinquency. ‘This is not conspiracy,’ she said. ‘This is a highly orchestrated system of evil to determinate who can drink and who cannot.'”
A report has been released by the US Water Alliance that highlights the work of the WPD Community Research Collective.
“Data can also empower communities to understand and analyze affordability challenges, as well as present their findings to decision-makers. We the People of Detroit, a community organization which engages in participatory research, took a data-driven approach to the water affordability crisis faced by low-income Detroit communities in 2014. We the People saw the impact of water shutoffs on quality of life, but they also saw the need to quantify the scope and impact of the problem. They partnered with the University of Michigan and the Detroit Public Health Department to lead community-based research on the public health impacts of unaffordable water. We the People conducted surveys, gathered government data, and created maps, all showing the health effects of the shutoffs. This project leveraged institutional resources to involve the community in data collection and analysis around affordability and water quality, promoting a clearer understanding of the challenges and illuminating potential solutions.”
Rebecca L. Rutt and Jevgeniy Bluwstein have published a research paper entitled “Quests for Justice and Mechanisms of Suppression in Flint, Michigan”. The abstract is below. READ FULL PAPER
“There is widespread acknowledgment of the crisis nature and injustices around water quality and access in Flint since mid-2014. This crisis led to different forms of grassroots activism demanding political accountability, transparency, and redress. However, residents’ experiences and their needs and demands in response to the crisis have been largely ignored. This article explores the mechanisms of suppression at work in obscuring these needs and demands. Specifically, it sheds light on the role of the public sector, the media, and the academic institutions in reproducing these mechanisms of suppression. The article situates the struggles over political accountability within the neoliberalization of public administration and government through emergency management. Capital accumulation can continue and intensifies, whereas emergency management further contributes to suppressing public dissent in the times of crisis via the erosion of political accountability. By illuminating institutionalized mechanisms of suppression of residents’ needs and demands, we argue that the Flint water crisis should also be seen as a crisis of government, journalism, and academia.”
“A new study by We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective and Henry Ford Health System shows a correlation between water shutoffs and water-related illnesses.
1. Patients admitted to Henry Ford Hospital with water-related illnesses were significantly
more likely to live on a block that has experienced water shutoffs. Patients diagnosed with skin
and soft tissue diseases were 1.48 times more likely to live on a block that has experienced
2. Living on a block that has experienced water shutoffs increases the likelihood that the
patient will be diagnosed with a water-related illness.
3. Patients who are most likely to experience water-related illnesses resulting from water
shutoffs are also the most socially vulnerable, according to the Center for Disease Control’s
‘Social Vulnerability Index.’
What should happen next?
1. The City of Detroit must institute an immediate moratorium on all water shutoffs.
2. The City of Detroit must institute a water affordability plan based on a resident’s ability to pay.
3. The City of Detroit must release water shutoff data necessary to complete a more thorough study of the impact of water shutoffs on public health, with an analysis as to how these conditions further contribute to racial health inequities.
How can I protect my family from these water-related illnesses?
1. Use bottled water for drinking or try to get water from a neighbor, ESPECIALLY for vulnerable populations.
2. Be careful not to reach hands into an open source (bucket/jug) of water. This can contaminate the water.
3. If the toilet cannot be flushed and human waste is sitting in it, periodically pour a bucket of water directly into the bowl to manually flush it; gravity will do the trick and send it to the sewer.
4. You can use rubbing alcohol to clean hands and wounds as much as possible. Consider asking neighbors or friends to come use their shower to bathe yourself and your family.
5. Once your water is reconnected, let it run for a little while (at least 5 minutes) before you drink it. This can help discharge any contaminants that might have settled in the pipes while it was shut off.
My water is shut off or at risk of being shut off. What should I do?
Call We the People of Detroit’s water rights hotline at 1-844-42WATER (1-844-429-2837). Our volunteers can assist Detroiters with locating emergency water and making payment arrangements with DWSD. We can also assist with finding and navigating the various water resources that are currently available.”
Last week the Ford Foundation shared some key insights from the Flint water crisis. They say:
“We’ve explained before that the Flint water crisis is about more than poisoned water. It highlights inequalities rooted in race and class, and tied to issues including education, healthcare, government accountability, and the environment.”
To read more visit the Ford Foundation website.