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Hearing Scheduled on Access to Water

The United Nations has declared access to water a human right. Credit: Public Domain/commons.wikimedia.org
The United Nations has declared access to water a human right. Credit: Public Domain/commons.wikimedia.org
October 23, 2015

BALTIMORE - A hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is examining the lack of access to safe and affordable water in many poor communities in the United States, including Baltimore.

In several U.S. cities, residents of low-income neighborhoods have had their water shut off because they can't afford to pay their water bills.

As income inequality grows, said Mary Grant, Public Water for All campaign director at Food and Water Watch, the problem is getting worse.

"In Baltimore, where a quarter of the residents are living in poverty and more than a third of children are living in poverty," she said, "predominantly people of color are at risk of losing their water service because of unaffordable, unpaid water bills."

By early September, water service to nearly 5,000 Baltimore households with overdue bills had been terminated, while grants, discounts and hardship exemptions allowed about 6,000 others to keep their water on.

The United Nations has recognized access to drinking water as a human right, and Grant said that means turning water off to households that can't afford to pay the bill is a violation of that right.

"So it's not that water service should be free," she said, "but water service should be affordable for everyone in order to respect and promote and protect the human right to water."

Many people who can't afford to pay their water bills turn to a variety of nonprofit and governmental-assistance programs for help. For an alternative solution, Grant pointed to cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit that are exploring income-based water-affordability programs.

"It actually adjusts the amount of assistance to meet the needs of each household," she said, "to be sure that water bills are affordable and households aren't paying beyond their means."

A coalition of some 20 community organizations was scheduled to participate in today's hearing, hoping to bring public attention to violations of the right to water.

More information is online at un.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - MD