Water is essential to life and the lifeblood of our planet. Without water, we
cannot sustain life.
Lack of access to clean drinking water is a reality for over 1.2 billion people-
about 20% of the world's population, and mostly in developing parts of the world.
Providing access to potable water remains one of the greatest challenges for
the global community today.
From March 16-22, 2006, Mexico will host the fourth World Water Forum, an important
international meeting aimed at ameliorating the water crisis in the world and
"assuring better living standards for people all over the world and a more
responsible social behavior towards water issues in-line with the pursuit of
sustainable development," according to the forum organizers.
What then, we ask, is the Coca-Cola company doing as one of the leading sponsors
of the World Water Forum? As a champion of unsustainable use of water globally,
Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the forum puts the very credibility of the World
Water Forum at stake.
The Coca-Cola company is the largest beverage company in the world, and according
to its own admission, the company used 283 billion liters of water in 2004.
Any way you look at it, 283 billion liters of water is a lot of water-particularly
in a world where over 1 billion people in the world cannot meet their basic
It is enough water to meet the entire world's drinking needs for 10 days! If
we use the water that Coca-Cola used in 2004, we could meet the entire drinking
needs of people who don't currently have access to clean drinking water for
To add insult to injury, the Coca-Cola company doesn't just stop at extracting
283 billion liters of water.
The Coca-Cola company proudly boasts that it has a water use ratio of 2.7 to
1. That is, for every 2.7 liters of water (freshwater) it takes from the earth,
it produces 1 liter of product. What happens to the remaining 1.7 liters (or
63%) of the water? It is used to clean bottles and machinery, and is discarded
In a world where one of 5 people do not have access to potable water, it is
indeed preposterous that any company could extract such large amounts of life
sustaining water, and convert the vast majority of the freshwater into wastewater.
Especially given that freshwater is scarce- only 2.5% of all the water in the
world is freshwater, the rest being salt water.
Coca-Cola's business practices, as well as its products, are coming
under scrutiny from consumers worldwide. Coca-Cola products contribute significantly
to a myriad of health problems, including obesity, diabetes and dental problems,
and a significant campaign has emerged to remove such products from our schools.
Nowhere is Coca-Cola's blatant disregard for water and communities
that sustain themselves from water more evident than in India.
Tens of thousands of people all across India are challenging Coca-Cola for
its abuse of water resources. Coca-Cola bottling plants have dramatically affected
both the quantity and quality of groundwater resources as a result of its operations,
making access to water by communities even more difficult.
The company regularly extracts up to one million liters of water per day in
some areas in India. The result has been sharp drops in groundwater levels,
resulting in severe water shortages for tens of thousands of people.
Coca-Cola's water use ratio in India is 4 to 1 - that is, 75% of the freshwater
it extracts is turned into wastewater. The company has indiscriminately discharged
its wastewater into the surrounding fields, severely polluting the scarce remaining
groundwater as well as soil.
The impacts being felt by the communities who live around Coca-Cola's bottling
plants are no small matter. In a country where over 70% of the population still
makes a living related to agriculture, taking away the water and poisoning the
remaining water and the soil has had dramatic consequences.
Thousands of farmers across India are struggling to make a living because of
crop failure as a result of the water shortages created by the Coca-Cola company.
Coca-Cola's abuses in India are being challenged vigorously by communities
all across India. One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants, in Plachimada,
in the state of Kerala, has remained shut down since March 2004 because the
village council has refused to allow it to extract any more water from the common
Yielding to the growing public outcry, the state government of Kerala has now
challenged the Coca-Cola company's operations to the Supreme Court of India,
arguing that "poor villages are deprived of drinking water due to overuse
of ground water by Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada to produce bottled drinks for
sale to people who have purchasing capacity in different cities of the country."
Similarly, in other parts of India such as Mehdiganj, Kala Dera and Gangaikondan,
communities have organized themselves and are challenging Coca-Cola's abuse
of water resources.
Communities in India are joined by a formidable international campaign to hold
the Coca-Cola company accountable, which has resulted in increasing the pressure
on the company to stop its abuses in India.
Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the World Water Forum is viewed incredulously by
communities in India. How can a company with an atrocious record of abusing
precious water resources be at the forefront of sponsoring an international
forum whose goal is to promote the sustainable use of water?
Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the World Water Forum is clearly a public relations
maneuver by the company to divert attention from the reality of Coca-Cola's
relationship with water.
Communities in India and their allies are adamant that the campaign to hold
Coca-Cola accountable for its crimes in India will continue to grow in size
and strength until the company makes genuine efforts to deal with the water
crisis it has created in India.
Until then the Coca-Cola company has no place at the World Water Forum.
Amit Srivastava is the coordinator of India Resource Center,
an international campaigning organization working to challenge abuses by multinational
corporations. India Resource Center will be at the World Water Forum in Mexico
to challenge the Coca-Cola company's public relations exercise. For more information,