Georgetown Law practicum discusses their work investigating economic access to water in urban United States. In winter 2013, nine students traveled to Detroit and Boston to find out what happens to people in the United States who have had their water shut off, or are threatened with shut offs. We asked how it affected their lives, and what options were available. We found people had been without water for weeks, or months in some cases.
In the United States, running water is assumed for all in urban centers. Because of this, people are left with very few options when their water is shut off. Without water you can’t bathe, flush the toilet, or wash the dishes. You can’t cook, clean your house, or take care of your children. Water is necessary for life, for more than simply drinking. And there is very little assistance targeted to water, either federal or local.
The right to water has been recognized in a number of international legal instruments. According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, water must be (1) available, (2) acceptable, and (3) accessible. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation visited the United States and said that existing water affordability guidelines were insufficient to ensure the right to water.
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