Desperate calls for help from the United Nations aren’t just for war-torn and developing nations anymore. The city of Detroit—a city that has been on the brink in many ways—in an effort to balance its books, has begun shutting off water access to city residents behind on their payments. While that may seem like what happens to anyone when they don’t pay their bills, Detroit is a unique case—nearly half of the 323,900 residents who use the utility are delinquent, according to the Detroit Free Press. To make matters worse, Al-Jazeera America reports, Detroit’s average monthly water bill is nearly double the national average of $40. The Detroit City Council approved a 9 percent hike last week.
In response, a coalition of activist groups in the city have appealed to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights for relief. Here’s what they’re hoping for via Think Progress:
“We are asking the UN special rapporteur to make clear to the U.S. government that it has violated the human right to water,” said Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a key member of the coalition that put the report together. In addition to creating international pressure to stop the Detroit shutoffs, Barlow said, the UN’s intervention could lead to formal consequences for the United States. “If the US government does not respond appropriately this will also impact their Universal Periodic Review,” she said, “when they stand before the Human Rights Council to have their [human rights] record evaluated.”
Earlier this year, to balance the department’s $118 million debt, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department deployed crews to cut some 3,000 residents’ access to the water supply each week as part of an effort to shut off water to more than 150,000 delinquent customers, according to the Detroit Free Press.
*Update, June 24, 2014: The headline of this post has been updated to clarify that Detroit began ramping up its effort to shut off water to delinquent users last year.