At the end of March, Baltimore city officials announced that they would be turning off the water supply to a huge number of properties in the city and surrounding county in the coming weeks. In total, the city department of public works plans to turn off water to 25,000 properties for $40 million in unpaid bills. While the debt may seem considerable, the city is ignoring how critical water is for survival and is being dishonest in its portrayal of the situation.
If you listened to the city government, you would think that the debt was racked up merely by “lazy people who don’t want to pay.” The truth is far more complex. Of the 25,000 properties, the ones with the lion’s share of the debt are commercial businesses. It was discovered that 370 businesses collectively owe $15 million of the total $40 million. This represents more than a third of the total debt by just over one percent of the properties. That number of businesses is also almost certainly not an exhaustive list of commercial properties included in the 25,000 figure.
While these big businesses have been able to rack up huge arrears into the millions of dollars, the city is now shutting off the water of anyone with a bill over $250. The hypocritical double standard of the city government is astounding! The city is allowing businesses unlimited access to water to make profits while the people who need water for their survival face an immediate shakedown if they can’t pay.
In a city with as much unemployment and low wages as Baltimore, the last thing that working and oppressed people need is a threat to their water supply. Without water, families are not only unable to drink, but forced into unsanitary conditions where they cannot shower, use a toilet, clean dishes, etc. Additionally, according to the Maryland Department of Human Resources, a condition of child neglect is when a child is consistently unwashed or with poor hygiene. This means that a family that loses their water supply due to the inability to pay is at risk of having their children taken away and placed in foster care.
These egregious actions on the part of the city government have sparked outrage in the community. A campaign led by the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Fight Imperialism, Stand Together youth; the Right to Housing Alliance; and others has begun to fight back against this violation of human dignity.
On March 30, a rally was held outside of Baltimore City Hall to call for a moratorium on the water shutoffs and demand that the banks and businesses pay the outstanding bills in full. There were also calls to either reduce water rates for residents or to make water free altogether.
The people of Baltimore, however, are not alone in this fight. Baltimore has received solidarity from activists around the world, most notably from Detroit, where water shutoffs have been an ongoing issue for years, and from Ireland, where water charges have recently sparked large protests.
Around the world, access to water is increasingly under attack, but people are fighting back. It is becoming clearer that water is something that everyone should have access to, no matter who or where they are. The demand is being raised that from Baltimore to Detroit and from Ireland and Africa to India, access to water is a human right!