Human Right to Water Research Guide


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.



Detroit Free Press – Experts see public health crisis in Detroit water shutoffs

“A preliminary study conducted by researchers at the Henry Ford Global Health Initiative found that patients who live on blocks that experienced water shutoffs were 1.55 times more likely to be diagnosed with a water-associated illness.

The study was the subject of a news conference Wednesday at Wayne State University’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. However, while panel included academics and physicians from across the country, Henry Ford doctors were noticeably absent…”


Did Detroit Mayor’s Office Suppress Damaging Water Shutoffs Study?

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 | Are Detroit water shutoffs and illnesses related?

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.”

We Are The Opportunity In Our Crises

We the People of Detroit was mentioned in an article entitled “We Are the Opportunity in Our Crises” by Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty in the Spring 2017 issue of Riverwise.

Read the full article here.

Close-up of three men unloading packs of bottled water from a truck

“Because of the innovation and forward thinking of We the People of Detroit (WTP, 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.”

Let’s Meet Up By the Water: A Reportback from ASLE 2017

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.'”

WPD Featured in “An Equitable Water Future: A National Briefing Paper”

A report has been released by the US Water Alliance that highlights the work of the WPD Community Research Collective.

View/Download the full report — An Equitable Water Future: A National Briefing Paper
Visit report page on the US Water Alliance website

“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.”