Activists to testify at UN over poisoned water in Flint, shutoffs in Detroit

© Mike Segar
Activists are due to give testimony at the United Nations next week about water shutoffs in Detroit, Michigan as well as lead contamination in neighboring Flint’s drinking water.

“All eyes are on Detroit and Flint now: We live in a developed country, developed cities, but we’re living in Third World conditions,” Beulah Walker, chief coordinator of the nonprofit Detroit Water Brigade, which gives out bottled water to those who need it, told the Detroit News.

Walker is scheduled to speak at the UN Commission for Social Development’s annual meeting in New York on February 2. The international group has 17 global development goals for the next 15 years, including access to water.

“People are wondering what is happening in Detroit and Flint, why are they going through this?” Walker said. “Why has the government put unbearable conditions on them? We are supposed to be rich.”

A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate how the city of Flint exposed at least 100,000 residents to lead poisoning. The financially strapped city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager in April of 2014, when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit’s system to the nearby Flint River in a cost-cutting move. Operators at Flint’s water treatment plant failed to treat the water to make it less corrosive, causing older lead pipes to dissolve into the tap water. State health authorities ultimately confirmed that elevated blood-lead levels had been found in children.

The mayor of Flint, the governor of Michigan, and President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency as a result, and called for water and filters to be distributed to residents while a task force evaluates short- and long-term solutions to the city’s infrastructure problems.

Walker’s trip was sponsored by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, a German-based organization that promotes democracy and political education, which is co-sponsoring the forum.

“One of the things that has incited many protests around the world in recent years is a growing dissatisfaction that government aren’t providing the services people need,” Sara Burke, a senior policy analyst with Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, wrote in an email to the Detroit News. “The right to have clean, safe, affordable water, food, and energy are among the top demands of protests, regardless of the country.”

Joining Walker will be Justin Wedes of Occupy Wall Street, who co-founded the Detroit Water Brigade. Wedes told the News they are seeking an audience with the US Mission to the UN.

“We want to highlight our lack of trust in state and federal government to properly address both the short-term crisis of the Flint water poisoning, and Detroit water shutoffs and the long-term effects and solutions,” Wedes said.