of people around the world I enjoy an ice cold coke from time to
time despite the horror stories of what it's doing to my insides.
However I've decided that as futile an action as this may be, I
am going to stop drinking Coke, not out of health concern, but
out of protest.
It would seem that Coca-Cola has been engaging in some highly
questionable corporate behavior in a region of southern India
not far from the area I visited last year. The soft drinks giant
extracts up to half a million litres of water per day from the
common groundwater resource at its Plachimada facility close to
some of the poorest communities in the world.
On my visit to southern India I learned much about the region's
growing water crisis, a crisis that is affecting more of the world
every single day. The need for water in the region of Tamil-Nadu
is so great that the area is often ravaged by
drought. Rural village wells quickly dry up and underground water
supplies become scarce. Crops fail and so the cycle of poverty
and the hardships that brings continue for yet another year.
One village I visited was occupied only by women and children
with the men are forced to leave and find work to send back money.
The little water they were able to get from the drying well was
so strong with the taste of salt it would be undrinkable to you
daily menu of the people in that village was merely
rice mixed with a few peppers cooked in the salty water from their
well. Only on the various festivals throughout the year would they
vary this diet. It was sobering to come face to face with
this kind of poverty, yet despite their situation the women still
offered us a glass of water and something small to eat. I'll never
forget the looks in their eyes. It was as if they were looking
at us as the white men who were coming to save them. The almost
unfathomable distance between our world and theirs was never more
obvious than when we standing right there with them. As we drove
away from that village in our air-conditioned SUV with ample supplies
of bottled water, none of us said a word, there really was nothing
we could say.
The struggle for water in many parts of the world is no less
dramatic than a struggle for life. So to learn that a huge corporation
like Coca-Cola is using its vast facilities and power to extract
and contaminate water supplies in southern India angers me greatly.
The wells and groundwater sources supply a large community of
farmers, adivasis (indigenous people) and dalits (oppressed castes)
in the Plachimada region, and while their struggle for water might
not be as desperate as the villagers I encountered in rural Tamil-Nadu,
it is nonetheless a grave situation revealing a most arrogant and
disgusting display of corporate greed, abuse and exploitation on
the part of Coca-Cola.
villagers near the Coca-Cola plant have formed the Coca-Cola Virudha
Janakeeya Samara Samithy (the Anti Coca-Cola
Peoples Struggle Committee). The group, backed by a growing
number of groups around the world, are seeking to highlight
that Coca-Cola are not only guilty of causing severe water shortages
for communities in the region, but also that the company is polluting
groundwater and soil around its bottling facilities, distributing
its toxic waste as "fertilizer" to farmers, and selling
drinks with extremely high levels of pesticides.
According to Anita
founder of The Body Shop, writing for AlsterNet, "The
global politics of water, especially corporate-led privatization
fueled by dire shortages in developing countries, is at the heart
of everything wrong with globalization. Children in developing
countries now drink more soft drinks than they do fresh water,
often because a can of Coke is cheaper or more readily available
than a clean-running tap. And nowhere is that more evident than
in Kerala, India."
Every time I turn on a tap and fill a glass, kettle, bowl or watering
can with water, I think of the people I met in southern India.
For them water is a luxury, not just a necessity. Yet their daily
struggle for water, and the struggle of more than a billion people
around the world, does not attract worldwide media attention, shock
or action. It does not make headlines, it does not lead the evening
news, it does not gain airtime on radio bulletins. It's the world's
quietest crisis that somehow seems to be unnoticed, or worse yet,
Coca-Cola need to understand and accept the fact that as a corporate
body commanding vast sums of money and considerable influence,
they should behave in a way that is responsible and fair. It's
a shame such that corporations like Coca-Cola don't start listening
until their shareholders start complaining. It might
seem futile, but until they do I for one will no longer be buying
the drink that I've enjoyed for years.
[You can send
a free fax to the CEO of Coca-Cola (or email
them) to make
your objection to their abuse known. Sending this fax is free
thanks to the India