photo: Kim Hendriksen

WILLEMSTAD – “This single mother has been shut off from water for four years”, says Alejandro van Putten who works for United Dominicans on Curaçao. This woman is not alone: Hundreds of families on Curaçao have been shut off from water due to financial problems. Human rights organizations are extremely worried.

The woman, whom Van Putten is speaking of, lost her job because she got cancer. This is the reason that she accrued a small debt at utility company Aqualectra, after which she was shut off. The mother has three children and is getting help from the neighborhood. Neighbors bring her buckets of water.

In the Brievengat neighborhood there’s a family with five children that had been shut off from water for a year. The family lives below the poverty line and could no longer afford the water bill. They also depend on food packages for their survival. This brought them into contact with the DASH foundation, who with the help of the Ministry of Social Development, Labor, and Employment (SOAW) helped them get their water turned on.

Report by Kim Hendriksen (Dutch spoken)
Download the audio here

At the start of the corona period – in March – Aqualectra allegedly reconnected 200 homes back to the watermains because of the hygienic needs surrounding the coronavirus. That’s what former minister for Economic Development Giselle McWillian said in the media. Aqualectra at the time still had about 2.000 households that needed to be reconnected.

 ‘This is a violation of human rights’
“It remains to be seen whether shutting off water is lawful according to international regulations”, says attorney Maya Elzinga-Soumah. In 200 the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution which states that water and sanitation is a human right which has been taken up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “It’s not a binding resolution but it does have great political meaning”, according to Elzinga-Soumah.

The Human Rights Caribbean Foundation (HRCF), a foundation that fights for human rights on Curaçao, says that water is essential for life. “Everyone needs about 20 to 50 liters of clean and safe water per day to drink, cook, and clean themselves. A lack of water cannot only cause disease, think about regularly washing your hands, but it can also affect your dignity”, the HRCF says.

Methods utility company Aqualectra
According to the director of Aqualectra, Derreck Jonis, households which cannot pay their water bills should turn to the SOAW. “A subsidy scheme exists where the SOAW will reimburse the costs in such cases”, says Jonis.

According to the director, Aqualectra receives a list weekly with addresses from the SOAW that have to be reconnected and as such the problem is not one that Aqualecra created. The minister of Social Development, Labor, and Employment, Hensley Koeiman, was not available for a response.

Responsibility of the government
Human rights organization HRCF is worried about the households on Curaçao which are being shut off at the moment. “Water belongs to everyone and it is the responsibility of the government of Curaçao to provide every inhabitant with enough water, preferably at the lowest price possible”, says the HRCF.

“In the past the SOAW made plans with Aqualectra about shutting people off from the watermains, it’s time to reanalyze those arrangements and to ensure that everyone on Curaçao is able to access water”, according to the human rights organization.