Apocalyptic Water Shortages and Big Soda

Many us have had the experience of “going down an Internet rabbit hole,” being sucked into a vortex that leads to exploring previously unknown territory, just like the little girl in the venerable storybook, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This particular rabbit hole connects the world’s water supply with the astonishing audacity and relentless greed of Big Soda. Some activists have dived in so far, and what they learn leads them to consequently devote all their energy to resisting the deadly influence.

This is a continuation of our previous post about water in India. Late in 2016, a court had ordered Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to stop taking water from Thamirabarani River. Still, the situation worsened. Journalist Keith Schneider wrote,

All over Tamil Nadu, in cities big and small, water supplies are so tight that municipal utilities often deliver water to homes for just a few hours a week. Tens of thousands of people wait in long lines daily to fill plastic jugs from tanks supplied by water trucks.

The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are widely viewed in Tamil Nadu as foreign interlopers determined to reap billions of dollars by commanding scarce water that should be reserved for local farmers and citizens.

Still, both companies persisted in attempting to build even more production plants in the area. As public protests increased, activist attorney DA Prabakar told the press,

There is no right to life more precious than water. People don’t have water now. There is no water. These bottlers take precious water from a river that doesn’t have water. It has to be stopped. It will be stopped.

But early in 2017, his optimism proved to be unfounded. With the state of Tamil Nadu in the midst of the worst drought in 140 years, food prices soared and farmers committed suicide. Nearly 1.5 million retailers in the state stopped selling Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products, which the Traders Federation declared to be toxic.

A former health minister praised the boycott and told the press,

We have huge surge of non-communicable diseases due to consumption of these things.

The very next day, in an insane ruling, the high court dismissed the two public interest litigations that had been preventing the companies from taking the river’s water. In an astonishingly hypocritical statement, the Indian Beverages Association said, “We hope customers will have the right to choose.”

How is it possible to choose between sugar-sweetened commercial beverages, and water, when the supply of drinking water has been usurped by giant global corporations? Adding insult to injury, the two companies were only required to pay a ridiculously low price for the water. Of course, protests started up again, and the crisis continued to worsen.

Last summer, activist retailers (which amounted to almost all of them) once again threatened to stop selling Coke and Pepsi products. The big problem was that they would have to somehow replace their refrigerators. Bharani Vaitheesvaran reported,

Organisers of the ban say small shopkeepers are supplied with subsidised — or sometimes free — refrigerators to stock up global brands, which obliges to keep retailing the products.

In the Tamil Nadu countryside and in the major city of Chennai (population over eight million), the crisis has continued right up to the present moment. Furthermore, this is not the only part of India so drastically affected, and India is not the only country afflicted by a terrible shortage of water. The disaster is widespread and ongoing, and perpetually worsened by the actions of Big Soda.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Right to Life and Water: Drought and Turmoil for Coke and Pepsi in Tamil Nadu,” CircleOfBlue.org, 05/24/17
Source: “Coca-Cola, PepsiCo get court relief in Tamil Nadu amid retail boycott,” LiveMint.com. 03/03/17
Source: “Pepsi, Coke can use water from Tamil Nadu river: Madras HC,” Rediff.com, 03/02/17
Source: “Coca-Cola, Pepsi face Tamil Nadu trader activism again,” IndiaTimes.com, 05/16/19
Image by KillerCoke.org

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