Sunday, June 29, 2014


After eleven years of campaigning by local people suffering from water shortages, state authorities have closed Coca-Cola's bottling plant at Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh as a result of people’s movement against land grab, illegal construction and indiscriminate withdrawal of water.  It is to be known whether Coca-Cola is doing such things in India. But the closure has triggered international debate on the water policy of Coca-Cola and the extent of its implementation in India. "Coca-Cola's thirst for profits in India have placed its business interests over the well-being of communities and the environment and this is not acceptable as the community of Mehdiganj has shown", said Amit Srivastava of the international campaigning group, India Resource Center.
What are the reasons behind closure of Coca-Cola plant?
In Mehdiganj near Varanasi in Uttarpradesh is mainly an agriculture belt. In 2003 Coca-Cola started its bottling plant with a temporary permit for operation with a production target of 20000 cases per day. By 2009 it has increased ts production to 36000 crates per day without any permit from the authority. Neither had they sought for any groundwater clearance from the CGWA. 1999 Mehdiganj was a safe category block as was assessed by the Central Groundwater Authority. But by 2004 it turned into a critical block in terms of groundwater resource.  The third reason is that it had built some constructions on community land which belongs to the Gramsabha. In December 2013, local authorities passed an order to evict Coca-Cola from the illegally occupied land. This followed a ruling by the The Supreme Court of India of 28th January 2011, which stated that any structures built on illegal land would have to be demolished.
Coca-Cola and zero water policy
Coca-Cola advocates for its zero water policy which means that the company will return to the Earth the water they are withdrawing. Coca-Cola has his own water policies and strictly adheres to some activities that include source water surveillance, groundwater recharge in the catchment, and ensure sustainability. It is important for water users to know that there is need to allocate financial resources for the management of the same resources. The Coca cola plant should have used money to help in the recharging of the aquifers where they were getting their ground water. The principle of use money to generate should have been applied. Also there was need to have a dual purpose borehole where by some water from another source may be by using rainwater harvesting should been directed into the borehole while at the same time it is being pumped. There should have been a case where there are time when pumping is less than recharging. There should have also been ground water monitoring so as to evaluate the dynamics of the water table for the said aquifer. It is a demonstration that big corporates like Coca Cola have to look beyond their own practices and get engaged with broader catchment level resource management. No matter what their own practices are, or the terms of their legal licence, they will lose their social licence to operate if resources become depleted. This is a very interesting story indeed, showing the need for multi-nationals like Coca Cola to increase their focus on the creation of shared or societal value rather than shareholder value. Certainly, producers of goods that are generally perceived as unhealthy and 'superfluous' will increasingly be confronted with the question of how ethical it is that they make use of scarce resources. 
Doesn't Coca-Cola adhere to the best practices in natural resource management in the developed part of the world? Then why they have given a miss in India?
Whether Coca-Cola had adhered to best practices or not is immaterial. No catchment has infinite resource. Artificial recharge is something like allocating surface runoff into groundwater storage. But total water resource of a watershed remains the same. Groundwater recharge always depletes environmental flow or other natural allocation of water. What Coca-Cola or other beverage factories do is export of water from the catchment (watershed) to the outside market. This consequently depletes the total water resource of the catchment.

If large companies that depend on scarce resources want to keep their 'license to operate', they need to consider what they can do to help reduce overall resource scarcity, beyond their own product chain or sector. Reducing its own ecological footprint is no longer enough; industry needs to also help competing users of scarce resources to become more efficient - especially when operating in poor communities where little funding is available for investments in e.g improved irrigation systems.

The company is also the target of a major community campaign in Kala Dera in Rajasthan where the community is seeking closure of the bottling plant due to rapidly depleting ground water.
Most recently, Coca-Cola's plans to build a new factory in Charba in Uttarakhand were defeated almost as soon as the proposal was made public in 2013, testament to how quickly and efficiently communities can organize and network in India against problematic companies such as Coca-Cola.
Amit Srivastava promised: "We will ensure that Coca-Cola will face heightened scrutiny anywhere it plans to operate in India because the track record of the company is dismal."

Friday, June 13, 2014

El Nino 2014 and its Probable Impact

This year monsoon has reached the Kerala coast a few days later than the schedule.  This is not very unusual and may not impact the agriculture in general. But what is looming the atmosphere is more severe and may cause severe water crisis in south Asia. This is attributed to the formation of a weather Phenomenon called the El Nino, which can cause drought in South Asia, is only expected to have an impact later in the four-month rainy season.
During the first week of the monsoon there was 40% less monsoon across India.  It is also forecasted that progress of monsoon would be slower and may impact the normal agriculture of the country. Usually, the monsoon covers a great part of India by mid-June, and engulfs its entire landmass by mid-July.

 El Niño refers to a giant pool of warm water swelling in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, that sets off a chain reaction of weather events around the world, Effect of El Nino is  devastating in some part of the tropic and countries of southern hemisphere but it benefits some regions in the north. US is is to get benefit from it. India is expected to be the first to suffer, with weaker monsoon rains undermining the nation’s fragile food supply, followed by further scorching droughts in Australia and collapsing fisheries off South America.
El Niño is defined by prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average value. The accepted definition is a warming of at least 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) averaged over the east central tropical Pacific Ocean. Typically, this anomaly happens at irregular intervals of two to seven years, and lasts nine months to two years. The average period length is five years. When this warming occurs for only seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño "conditions"; when it occurs for more than that period, it is classified as El Niño "episodes". Similarly, La Niña conditions and episodes are defined for cooling.
The first signs of an El Niño are:
1.      Rise in surface pressure over the Indian OceanIndonesia, and Australia
2.      Fall in air pressure over Tahiti and the rest of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean
3.      Trade winds in the south Pacific weaken or head east
4.      Warm air rises near Peru, causing rain in the northern Peruvian deserts
5.      Warm water spreads from the west Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the east Pacific. It takes the rain with it, causing extensive drought in the western Pacific and rainfall in the normally dry eastern Pacific region.

El Niño's warm rush of nutrient-poor water heated by its eastward passage in the Equatorial Current, replaces the cold, nutrient-rich surface water of the Humboldt Current. When El Niño conditions last for many months, extensive ocean warming and the reduction in easterly trade winds limits upwelling of cold nutrient-rich deep water, and its economic impact to local fishing for an international market can be serious. 

Global sea surface temperature in May 2013 and May 2014. Photograph: NASA

El Niños also typically damp down hurricane activity. But hurricane Andrew, one of the deadliest and costliest in recent history, that adversely affected Florida in 1992, which was an El Niño year.  Another big issue under El Nino is floods in countries of western Pacific. It may bring devastating floods in countries like Peru, Equador and Chile. The 1997-98 El Niño slashed the catch by 80%, as the fish migrated away from the abnormally warm waters. Luis Icochea, a fisheries expert at the National Agrarian University in Lima, warned that the event this year is developing in a similar way.

Another deadly impact of El Nino is on the social and cultural environment that needs to be understood more seriously. It has an ability to spark civil wars and local violence. During the last 50 years between 1950 and 2000, about 20% civil wars occurred in the El Nino cycle, probably due to the loss of crops, jobs and the psychological effects of hotter weather.   Hsiang told the Guardian that, based on historical data, a Pacific warming of 0.8C is associated with a rise in the annual risk of conflict of 15%. It is certainly a developing situation that we should keep track of and it would be excellent to have policy-makers and the public aware of the potential risk.