Amid Floods and Droughts, Coca-Cola Aims to Help India Stay Ahead of Climate Change

High-caloric soft drinks aren’t the only way Coca-Cola is quenching thirst worldwide. Through its philanthropic arm, the Coca-Cola Foundation, it’s also aiming to increase access to safe water in developing areas.

Droughts and water scarcities are a widening problem and could engulf a third of the developing world by 2025, by some estimates. But the right use of watershed management practices, such as collecting rainfall and building wells, can provide some relief. The foundation is keen on that solution, offering grants that fund watershed management improvements in many parts of the globe. Right now, it’s especially busy on this issue in monsoon-challenged India.  

The foundation’s Anandana (Sanskrit for “the blissful”) program is presently taking applications from India-based NGOs to help municipalities in India become more water-sustainable. Anandana lays out a comprehensive strategy, one that starts with preserving and expanding all available freshwater sources, improving water sanitation, and devising mechanisms for groundwater recharge. Additional steps follow: expanding forest cover, encouraging use of clean energy sources, and reforming wastewater management to ensure that human pollution goes into safe disposal sites and not into the biosphere.

The N.M. Sadguru Water & Development Foundation, one of Anandana’s past grantees, used its award to build 19 water structures such as dams and water reservoirs on 3,073-hectares of land spanning 20 villages in the Banswara district of Rajasthan. More than 11,000 villagers benefitted.

Anandana also gave the nonprofit group Haritika funding to build four new dams for three villages in Bundelkhand, and afterward, to construct a new pond and water sanitation facility and to distribute volumes of solar-powered lanterns in two villages in Chatterpur. A few more villages and rounds of construction followed. By the time that Haritika was done, it had created 42 new water structures and shored up water supplies for 14 villages, totaling more than 12,000 villagers in all.

Water security is a growing challenge in many parts of the globe, from developing regions like western Africa to heavily industrialized places like California, where the governor just announced the toughest conservation rules in its history.

India’s cities and towns are uniquely challenged, however, because of the subcontinent’s monsoons. Farming communities across the subcontinent must meticulously track the weather patterns and anticipate each oncoming downpour, or else lose whole seasons’ worth of crop produce to the floods. It’s with good reason that many Indians call the monsoons “India’s true finance minister.”  

And while the farmers have always contended with the monsoons and grown their crops regardless, they’ve been having an increasingly hard time in recent years due to climate change. On one hand, the monsoons are becoming increasingly unpredictable and torrential; on the other, they are interspersed with an unprecedented frequency of scorching droughts. The farmers clearly can’t stop climate change—not by themselves, at least. But they can weather the storms, so to speak, by tapping into nearby water structures more effectively and building protective dams and other structures to hold back the periodic floodwaters more securely and harness it for future use. That’s precisely what Anandana’s watershed management grants are paying for them to do.

The Coca-Cola Foundation has broad expertise in watershed management, incidentally. It’s funded projects for conserving water ecosystems and setting up new-and-improved systems for treating wastewater and safely treating water for household use in Kyrgyzstan, China, and Cambodia, among other diverse locales. “Water stewardship” is one of the foundation’s four official program areas (education, community recycling, and healthy and active lifestyles are the others).

Why is Coca-Cola into water issues? Well, if there’s no water, there can be no soda, and so the company has long been attuned to water. As social responsibility became a bigger priority, working on water seemed like an obvious fit. 

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