Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Community Rallies Against Coca-Cola, Demands Climate Justice

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

November 30, 2009 - Armed with banners demanding "Climate Justice Now!" and "Shut Down Coca-Cola", over 2,000 villagers marched to the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj in India today demanding its closure.

Villagers have accused the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj of worsening the water conditions in the area by over-extraction of groundwater as well as pollution.

The community was also angered by Coca-Cola's decision to continue production and extraction of groundwater as the area faced severe drought this year and thousands of farmers experienced failed crops and water sources dried up.

2009 was the worst drought year for India in the last 40 years and June was the driest June in India in the last 80 years, a testament to a changing climate.

"Coca-Cola cannot continue to mine for millions of liters in Mehdiganj when our communities do not have enough water to sustain their lives and livelihoods. Coca-Cola must shut down," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, the primary community organization organizing the protest.

The groundwater levels at Coca-Cola's bottling plant were at 23.75 meters below ground level in 2008, one of the most depleted groundwater tables in the entire area - confirming Coca-Cola's major impact on the groundwater at the point of extraction. Interestingly, Coca-Cola points to a groundwater metering station located 5 kilometers away from its plant, where the groundwater levels is at 5.9 meters below ground level, to suggest that it is not a significant contributor to groundwater depletion in the area. The groundwater levels are expected to drop sharply again in 2009 as a result of the failed monsoons (the Central Ground Water Board has not released the 2009 levels yet).

Government officials have also confirmed that groundwater conditions in the Araziline block, where the Coca-Cola company is located, is the worst hit in the entire region. The Uttar Pradesh irrigation department has noted that the majority of the tubewells that went dry in the region were in the Araziline block and only 18 of the 156 ponds in the area could be filled this year as a result of failed monsoons.

"Operating water guzzling bottling plants in drought hit areas where the communities and farmers do not have access to water is highly unethical and criminal. Coca-Cola should never have located its plants in drought prone areas, and as droughts become more frequent in India as a result of climate change, we will increase our efforts to shut down Coca-Cola in these areas," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center.

Coca-Cola has been the target of numerous protests by farmers all across India accusing the company of depleting groundwater, the primary source of water for Coca-Cola's production. Two Coca-Cola bottling plants in India have been shut down and a proposed plant was stopped from completion as a result of community opposition. Protests against Coca-Cola are expected to intensify as communities in India and across the world realize the impacts of climate change, including sporadic rainfall, drought and increased stress on groundwater.

The march and rally was preceded by a conference on Climate Justice and Water Rights in Mehdiganj on November 29, attended by key leadership from the region including village heads and government officials. Mr. Rajendra Singh, a prominent expert on water internationally, addressed the conference and called Coca-Cola's rainwater harvesting initiatives a "sham", noting that the company should not be operating in drought areas in the first place.

Coca-Cola has suggested that it has become "water neutral" in Mehdiganj - that its operations have no impact on water resources whatsoever. It is absurd for a company like Coca-Cola (which extracted 38 million liters of water in 2008 alone in Mehdiganj) to claim that it has no impact on the groundwater resource. Coca-Cola's water neutrality goals, which its own study termed as "misleading" and "impossible", have been labeled as outlandish and impossible by water experts in India, and as a public relations gimmick by activists.

Report by-
Nandlal Patel

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