[MEDIA ADVISORY] The Flint Water Crisis is a Human Rights Crisis



The US Human Rights Network’s National Human Rights to Water and Sanitation Coalition, comprised of over 100 organizations and individuals from across the United States, wishes to call attention to the Flint water crisis as a human rights crisis in-and-of itself, as well as connected to a larger national crisis for the human rights to water and sanitation. In response to the failing of federal, state, and local governments to ensure the human rights to water and sanitation for every resident, the National Human Rights to Water and Sanitation formed to center people and communities directly impacted, connect across region and issue, and push for comprehensive action to be taken to ensure that the human rights to water and sanitation are upheld for every person who resides in the US. The coalition consists of grassroots, local, national, and faith-based organizations as well as law clinics and educational institutions; with expertise from directly-impacted community members as well as lawyers and experts on water policy, utilities, legislation, and human rights.

In Flint, MI, a city that is more than 50 percent black, and 40 percent of the residents are living below the poverty line, over 99,000 people, including over 17,000 children, have been impacted by lead poisoning after the emergency manager appointed by Gov. Snyder switched the water source from Detroit to the notoriously polluted Flint River in April of 2014 under the guise of saving the city money. The State did not recognize there was water contamination until October of 2015, despite pleas and organizing on the part of Flint residents. During that time and through the present, Flint residents were paying expensive water bills with the threat of water shutoffs if bills were unpaid. First and foremost, the National Human Rights to Water and Sanitation Coalition wants to support the demands coming from Flint residents (see Flint Water Study; NAACP), including immediate accountability through the resignation of Gov. Snyder, among others.

Secondly, the coalition wants to address the political and structural conditions that lead to the human right to water crisis we see in Flint, such as ending Gov. Snyder’s racially discriminatory emergency management system that took Flint out of democratic control of the residents and whose austerity measures were responsible for the switch to the Flint River; the need to address environmental racism on behalf of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) as it has a history of policies allowing substandard environmental and public health conditions in low income, largely people of color communities, despite the pleas for help from residents; and remedying the complete lack of human right to water protections for residents in Flint and everywhere in the state through passing the Michigan Human Right to Water Bill Package.

Lastly, access to safe, affordable, and clean water is an internationally recognized universal human right. Just this past October, members of our coalition testified at an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing on the Human Right to Water in the Americas. In Flint and across the country, the water crisis in the U.S. is also a crisis of economic class and racially-based discrimination that disproportionately impacts poor people, communities of color, Indigenous Peoples, migrants, women, people with disabilities, elders, children, the chronically ill, and other groups that have historically faced discrimination. In our work, we have seen the U.S. allowing communities to live with contaminated drinking water for months, years, and even decades; engaging in mass water shut-offs for people living in poverty rather than making water affordable; failing to provide support for adequate water and sanitation infrastructure to meet basic human needs and protect human health; ignoring the disproportionate impact of inadequate water quality, access and affordability in communities of color; the criminalization of poverty and of those who defend their rights to water and sanitation; and removing children from the homes of poor families who are unable to afford the cost of residential water service.  Going forward, it is imperative that local, statewide, and federal water and sanitation policies ensure the human rights of everyone.

To contact members of the National Human Right to Water Coalition:

  • Horacio Amezquita, San Jerardo Community (Salinas Valley, CA) : horacioamezquita@yahoo.com
  • Colin Bailey, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (Salinas Valley, CA): colin@ejcw.org, (916) 432-EJCW (3529)
  • Alice Jennings, Edwards Jennings (Detroit, MI): ajennings@edwardsjennings.com, 313-961-5000
  • Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (Detroit, MI): chuteh7@hotmail.com, (313) 729-5558
  • Catherine Flowers, Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise and Equal Justice Initiative (Lowndes County, Alabama): CatherineFlowers@aol.com, (334) 462-4849
  • Britton Schwartz, Santa Clara University International Human Rights Clinic (Santa Clara, CA): bschwartz@scu.edu, (917) 324-3141,
  • Rebecca Landy, US Human Rights Network (New York, NY): rlandy@ushrnetwork.org, (917) 509-4101