I learned several things from this article (and 2 others I cited):
Revealed: Millions Of Americans Can’t Afford Water As Bills Rise 80% In A Decade, The Guardian, 23 June 2020
Here are 4 of them:
1. Upwards of 15 million people, or one in 20 homes, had their water shut off in 2016. It’s even more today since the cost of water has gone up considerably since then.
As many as one in 20 homes are disconnected for unpaid bills annually, according to the only national study. No one knows how many eventually catch up on payments or have to learn to survive without water to flush the toilet, shower and cook.
Here in Philly…
In Philadelphia, advocates working in a predominantly low income black and brown neighbourhood in 2014 came across people who’d been without running water for decades – forced to use plastic bags for the toilet and bottled water to wash their hands. “It was widespread, and clearly a human rights issue.”
You would think that during a pandemic when people are being told to wash their hands frequently, that the government would intervene. Nope.
Nationwide, nobody knows how many Americans were without water at the start of the pandemic – nor how many were disconnected during. What is known is that financial aid to help families and utilities keep taps running was excluded from federal rescue packages.
2. The quality of water – everyone’s water – is going down and the price is going up, dramatically.
Nationwide, the rising cost of water has significantly outstripped the consumer price index over the past decade.
The reason? Federal neglect.
Federal funding for water systems has fallen by 77% in real terms since its peak in 1977 – leaving local utilities to raise the money that is needed to upgrade infrastructure, comply with safety standards for toxic contaminants like PFAS, lead and algae blooms, and adapt to extreme weather conditions like drought and floods linked to global heating.
“High-cost low-quality water is a national issue… the federal government is clearly not playing the role it needs to play,” said Howard Neukrug, director of the water centre at the University of Pennsylvania and former head of Philadelphia’s water department.
“The bottom line is that assuming there’s no federal helicopter with $1tn, rates are going to go up dramatically to pay for infrastructure and quality issues,” he added.
3. Unbelievably, water, a basic human necessity, is becoming just another commodity to be bought and sold in the pursuit of wealth.
“Water should never be treated as commodity or a luxury for the benefit of the wealthy,” said water justice advocate Mary Grant from Food and Water Watch, reacting to the Guardian’s research.
The US is the only country in the industrialized world without a regulatory system – like Ofwat in the UK – responsible for monitoring rates and performance, according to Stephen Gasteyer, professor of sociology at Michigan State University. He said: “Water rates have gone up dramatically – mostly in places where people are also struggling with food, housing and other basic services. It’s a symptom of the inequalities and segregation problems we have in the US, where poor people are agglomerated in particular places and local governments are shouldered with the responsibility for raising revenue for services.”
There are federal programmes to help low income households afford energy and telecoms bills, but nothing for water.
4. The United States is allowing people to go without, not just clean water, but ANY water, even though access to clean drinking water was declared a human right by the United Nations in 2010.
On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
What is happening to us?