Rating Humanity's Response to Detroit's Water Crisis

The good, the symbolic, and the ugly.

Image
AP

In the coming days, nearly half of Detroit's residents could be left without running water as a crackdown on overdue water bills hits the hard-up city. The crisis has rightly garnered some attention — regionally, nationally, and internationally — and generated some reactions.

Not all of them are good. Here's a breakdown:

The Ugly

PETA, everyone's least favorite purveyor of cheap political stunts, has offered to pay the overdue water bills of ten Detroit residents if they pledge to go vegan. The apogee of sadness: Detroiters are taking them up on it. 

ABC  summed up the initiative thusly: 

The group's offbeat campaign takes advantage of the recent water crisis in Detroit, where residents owe more than $89 million on past-due accounts, and more than 7,000 people have had their water shut off in recent weeks, prompting chaos in the bankrupt city."

It's obviously within PETA's rights to raise awareness about the economic and environmental virtues of going vegan, but there are many ways to it without twirling the plight of residents of a city with over 14 percent unemployment as batons in a parade of self-congratulation.

Veganism is a lifestyle, poverty is not. Nevertheless, this seems like an on-par response from a group that has both compared the entire human race to Nazis as well as killed 30,000 animals in the past dozen years. 

The City of Detroit is hardly blameless here. Officials have been criticized for mismanaging the crisis on a number of levels, but one particularly troublesome aspect of this whole ordeal has to do with the city's practice of cutting service to people who hundreds and not businesses who owe thousands or more. 

According to a department list, the top 40 commercial and industrial accounts have past-due accounts totaling $9.5 million. That list includes apartment complexes, the Chrysler Group, real estate agencies, a laundromat and even a cemetery.

According to Mary Chapman, one of those listed is "Vargo Golf Co., an Oakland County-based golf course management firm, [which] owes $478,000."

The Good

For a sane contrast, last week, The Washington Post (and CityLabreported on the Detroit Water Project, a platform that matches Detroit residents seeking relief for their water bills to donors with no agenda beyond the genuine spirit of altruism.

The project started as a Twitter conversation between a Detroit resident seeking a way to get relief and a donor seeking a way to give. The Wire reached out to get some up-to-date stats on their efforts. Here's where the project stands, as of Wednesday afternoon:

Over 6,000 donors have signed up and pledged. 
Over 500 residents currently in the help pipeline. 
Over $32,000 paid out directly to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. 

The Symbolic

Last week, across the border in nearby Windsor, a caravan of Canadians loaded up their cars with jugs of water and brought over 1,000 liters of water. (That's more than 250 American gallons.) From the AP:

Eleven vehicles passed through the Detroit Windsor Tunnel under the Detroit River. The Canadians rallied outside City Hall before heading for St. Peter's Episcopal Church to deliver the water.

In other symbolic gesturing, the United Nations issued a statement last week calling the looming disconnection of services a violation of human rights:

Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

In response to the criticisms, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was granted broader control over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department on Tuesday.

This post originally appeared on The Wire, an Atlantic partner site.

MORE FROM THE WIRE:

MH17: The Challenge of Reporting on a Catastrophe

House GOP Tells Obama "We'll See You In Court"

Argentina Goes Into Default

About the Author