Coca-Cola using up water, foes in India contend, by Moni Basu and Scott Leith

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In the holiest of Hindu cities, water is worshipped every day. To touch the Ganges River in Varanasi is to be blessed; to die on its banks and have your ashes scattered in the waves is to find eternal peace.

But Coca-Cola has found little peace at its plant in Mehdiganj, a village near Varanasi where life’s essential elixir is turned into 600 bottles of soda pop a minute.

Some villagers want to close the bottling plant because they say Coke uses too much water, making wells go dry and crops suffer. They’ve joined global anti-Coke activists whose campaign has already closed, if temporarily, one of 68 plants that make Coke products in India.

“Water is central to our livelihood,” said Nandlal Master, a Mehdiganj schoolteacher.

Coke counters that it uses only a very small portion of India’s available water and said there was no scientific evidence the company was to blame for shortages.

But the water war here twists and turns in societal undercurrents that, like the mighty Ganges, flow through a land of contradictions. It’s a complex environment the Atlanta-based soft drink giant will have to learn to navigate to keep from drowning in the fast-growing Indian market.

A booming economy and burgeoning middle class has helped Coke’s cause, but India remains a land of tradition mired in heart-wrenching poverty.

More than 300 million people survive on less than $1 a day and would rather sip cheap, milky tea from terra-cotta cups that cost a fraction of 15-cent bottles of soda. Indians drink, on average, nine servings of Coke products per year; Americans and Canadians gulp down 411.
Story found here.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution