chapter  13
14 Pages

Race, austerity and water justice in the United States

Fighting for the human right to water in Detroit and Flint, Michigan
WithCristy Clark

In April 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan, noticed their water turning brown, green, and yellow. Immediately after being switched to the Flint River for austerity reasons, their tap water smelled and tasted foul. Soon the evidence began to mount that it was making them acutely ill: causing widespread lead poisoning and a deadly outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease. Meanwhile, households in nearby Detroit began having their water supply cut off. Over the subsequent years, both cities experienced what can only be described as a water crisis. Drawing on fieldwork and documentary research, this chapter argues that not only were these water crises linked, but they were a direct result of the democratic deficit caused by structural racism and the ‘financialisation’ of governance. In both Detroit and Flint, the imposition of austerity through the antidemocratic means of Emergency Management has been influenced by systematic and structural racism, and the effects on residential water services have also reflected this democratic deficit and racialized political landscape. In this way, the situation in both cities, including the right to water campaigns that have developed in response, is remarkably similar to water justice issues in cities, such as Johannesburg, across the Global South.