The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed a petition to the High Court of Justice yesterday (January 27) on behalf of four families whose water was disconnected because they were unable to pay their bills. The petitioners asked the Court to order the water corporations to cease the practice of cutting water until regulations on the subject are established.
According to the Water and Sewage Corporations Law, water corporations are prohibited from disconnecting homes from the water supply prior to the establishment of rules to regulate procedures for disconnection. The rules, which should have been established some twelve years ago, are designed to restrain the corporations and prevent unnecessary harm to those who cannot afford to pay. The State Water Authority, however, has dawdled, leaving each water company makes its own rules. As a result, every month, thousands of families (including families with children) who cannot afford to pay their water bills are disconnected from the water supply.
Rising prices and privatization of distribution have combined to create a perfect storm for families who cannot afford to pay their water bills. Privatization transferred authority and responsibility for water distribution – and debt collection – from local municipalities to water corporations. As prices soared, more and more families could not afford their water bills. Unlike in the past, however, there is no longer any coordination between municipal welfare departments and collection procedures for water debts, and therefore no solutions like debt forgiveness and payment plans for those in dire need.
Attorney Tali Nir, Director of ACRI’s Social and Economic Rights Department: “Water is not a consumer good. It is a fundamental right. Yet over the past few years, there has been rampant abuse on this issue, a combination of indifference to suffering and organizational chaos. The Water Authority is not properly monitoring the water corporations and has for many years now failed to establish the regulations whose purpose are, among other things, to accommodate families that are unable to pay their water bills. It is unacceptable for a family with children to be disconnected from water; no person can be denied the right to wash her hands.”
Petitioner Moshe Mizrahi, a father of four from Jerusalem: “One day in the middle of a shower, I was completely disconnected with no prior warning because the water company mistakenly thought I had a massive debt. Even after they admitted their mistake, they had the gall to charge me for the disconnection and reconnection. Unfortunately, when we give these corporations the authority to behave like bullies, this is exactly what they do. This is the behavior that must be curbed.
For the petition (in Hebrew) click here.