India's War Over Water — and Soft Drinks

Issue 03-20-17   |   Reviewer:   Derek Abrams


India is one of the most water-challenged nations, and fights over water erupt periodically between states and users. India accounts for 18 percent of the world's population, but it possesses only 4 percent of the planet’s fresh water. Fifty-four percent of India’s surface area is subject to high or extremely high water stress. Failed monsoon rains over as many as the past three years in some states have parched rivers and dams, forcing farmers, manufacturers, and municipal water suppliers to rely more on wells to meet their needs. But those wells are drying up, too, hurting farmers, India’s economic mainstay.

A potent blend of pride, economic nationalism, and mounting concern over water security have the world’s two biggest cola brands in a bind in southern India. Shopkeepers in drought-hit Kerala state decided Wednesday to promote local brands over Coca-Cola and PepsiCo beverages after counterparts in neighboring Tamil Nadu boycotted the multinational drinks. Vendors would rather lose business than sell the products. While retail groups say that the soda companies are siphoning off groundwater and selling products tainted with pesticides, academics and analysts say the soda giants have become scapegoats for a water crisis mired in politics and patriotism. Unfortunately for India, the root cause of this boycott is the enduring fight in drought-ridden states between industrial water users and agricultural farmers.

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