Apr 22, 2009

Earth Day resolve: Closing five big food & beverage companies will provide water for the planet

I am sure many of you would have wondered why the newspapers are suddenly talking about the environment -- global warming, rivers drying up, Olive Ridley turtles, coming water wars of the future -- and so on, and that too in the midst of the heat and dust of the election campaigns. Well, it took me a few minutes to realise that today -- April 22 -- happens to be the Earth Day.

So today is Earth Day. Thank God, the Earth has at least one day to itself, even if it is only on paper !

A Washington-based news report World over, rivers are drying up caught my attention. Not that we didn't know it, but still let us see what the researchers are saying: The flow of water in the world's largest rivers including India's Ganga, has declined over the past half century, with significant changes found in about a third of the big rivers. The reduction in inflow to the Pacific Ocean alone was about equal to shutting off the Mississippi river. The annual flow into the Indian Ocean dropped by about 3 per cent, or 140 cubic kilometers.

Quoting a study published in the May 15 edition of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate, the report goes on to say: Among the rivers showing declines in flow, several serve large populations. These include the Yellow River of northern China, the Ganga in India, the Niger in West Africa and the Colorado in the southwestern United States. The study also showed that the Colorado, a lifeline of the southwest United States, won't be able to provide all of water promised to millions who rely on it for their homes, farms and businesses.

Very well said. And that makes me wonder how stupid we can be when we promote unsustainable solutions like inter-linking of rivers to address the issue of river water going waste at a time when bulk of the country is starved of water and remains dependent upon rains as the only source of fresh water supplies. At a time when the glaciers are melting and the rivers drying up, to suggest an investment of Rs 1,20 lakh crores for linking the rivers was something I could never fathom. But knowing that the lobby groups have their own axe to grind, and academicians are always keen to provide oil to such lobbies, all I could do was to make my voice felt at some platforms.

Imagine, India making a massive investment to build a network of canals to link all the rivers, only to find that by the time the canals come into operation the rivers have gone dry. Of course, you don't have to worry because the economists will tell us this is one public investment that will stimulate the economy in downturn, and the GDP will grow. The Prime Minister will tell us how India is managing to keep its growth figures upward of eight per cent at times of a global meltdown. What he will not tell us is that the heavy investment his government (or successive governments) made on linking the dry rivers was actually a futile exercise, and stupid economics.

This also brings me to the related aspect of water shortage that is being felt all over. I don't have to present you the figures once again, you have read it time and again. Interestingly, the other day someone from the ITC group of companies in a public lecture explained how the company was trying to educate the household help, the part time women workers who come to your house every morning/evening to clean the utensils and mop up the floor, on how to save water. As part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, ITC was trying to do its bit. What an innovative effort, you would say. I wonder if the ITC follows the same prescription in the chain of hotels it runs !

But is there a way out? Can we really find a solution to the water crisis, which as some people predict, would lead to future wars?

I can suggest a simple solution. Extraordinary times they say, require extraordinary decisions. The simple solution that I have been thinking about needs extraordinary decision. I mean a tough political decision, and you have the answer to much of the water woes the world is faced with.

The Economist (Aug 27, 2008) states: Five big food and beverage companies -- Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Danone -- consume almost 575 billion litres of water a year, enough to satisy the daily water needs of every person on the planet.

Wouldn't it make sense if we were to close down these five companies. Now hold on, before you think I am going mad, think again. Closing these five companies will not result in more hunger. Closing these five companies will only mean that a few of us will be deprived of their products, nothing more than that. This will also enable us to seek suitable change in our unsustainable lifestyles that is harming the Earth.

All I am saying is close down these five companies. Give them a bailout package. If we can give a stimulus package to banks/insurance companies involved in financial frauds and irregularities, why not to these water guzzlers? After all, we have only one Earth to protect and preserve.

Ask these companies to close their shop. Or how long will we go on making fool of ordinary people by telling them to conserve water at the time of washing utensils or while brushing their teeth (I am certainly not against this kind of education and awareness) but why are we not willing to hit where it needs most? Why do we refrain from taking tough political decisions in favour of the masses? If the world really needs water, and water is the lifeline as we all know, than I think we should be willing to call for some hard decisions.

Extraordinary times, require extraordinary decisions.

On this Earth Day, let us take a resolve. We want to protect the Earth, and our future needs. The Earth needs water, and we need a vibrant Earth. No price is bigger than protecting the Earth. Even if it means pulling down the shutter on world's five big food and beverage companies.

The Earth will then be a much better place to stay.


JS said...

can u post the link to the economist piece pls? I couldn't find it online.


Ramesh said...

But million doller question is that who bell the cat. Today many govt. are toy of these MNC's.

Yayaver said...

cycle of greed goes on...another 5 will take their place if these 5 biggies are closed.You are truly pointing to apocalypse caused by lack of water but we are victims of our own materialism..

Anonymous said...

I think like you!!You are the first one I ever heard expres those thoughts. Wen I have, Peopel just tell me how stupid my thinking is... I LOVE YOU!! Bigg kisses from Karin (allardkarin@hotmail.com)

Anonymous said...

Dear Devinder,
Irony,sarcasm and aside need not be literary devices any more.
I am aware that it will be quite difficult to figure out as to how many everflowing municipal taps (that need minor repairs) end up wasting precious drinking water.My own little experiment with my municipal tap at home, taught me that it takes 2 minutes to fill a 20 litre bucket.

That will be over 1200 ltrs of water per two hours.And if the municipal committee is providing water morning and evening.One everflowing,unrepaired tap is wasting 2400 litres of water per day in 4 hours..
And if there are only 1000 taps (???) that keep flowing all over panjab for want of repairs, it will be :
2400 X 1000 = 24,00000 Ltrs of water wasted.

By WHO standards, per person water requirement is app.160 ltrs a day.
Which means 24,00000 ltrs of water will last for 15000 days for one human being.
And a normal human being lives on this earth for approx.22000 days.
(i must add that my maths is very weak).

Kavi Dushyant once wrote :
kaun kehta hai aasman mein suraakh ho nahi sakta,
koi pathar to tabiyat se uchhallo yaaro.

with apologies to him, I say :
Kaun kehta hai dharti ka paani khat'm ho nahi sakta,
chand toottiya'n to tabiyat se bahaao yaro.

best wishes,
Dr. Ernest Albert.

"Iss baar holi sookhi manaayein", said the hoardings.
"Holi se rangyye kapde bhi na dhoyein", hoardings DID'NT say that.

Anonymous said...

My host of friends and family have been following the ritual for last 10 years, the place for Coca Cola/pepsi is best used as a commode cleanser - the cheapest form of cleansing agent. As for Nestle and Unilever these products have long been boycotted by us.

Fully support Devinderji's extraordinary decision. The facts are there for us to see and feel, we first become the agent of change and apply it consciously in our groups by endorsing it.

Sangita Sharma

Anonymous said...

Agreed. But exactly what should be done needs well thought out solution. The one thing that everybody can undertake immediately is not to drink, serve or sell any of the said products.

Shiv Chopra

Anonymous said...

We must assert ourselves- discuss and evolve a concrete ways to hit at the real cause as suggested by Devinderji and Shivji.The real culprits are trying to give highly superfluous and exploitative solutions. We must project parallel pro-people solutions, which help the people to fight these criminals and to evolve solutions which are people centric.

Dr Amar Singh Azad

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharma ji,

As ever your analysis is brilliant.

But what I have still failed to understand (entirely my ignorance) is the processes and products that these BIG FIVE companies indulge in to consume so much of water and whether their processes are wasteful or inefficient in water use.

Since these are food and beverages companies then what they produce must be getting consumed by some one. So there is some demand that they are meeting. It is entirely possible that a lot of what these BIG FIVE produce at such huge 'watery costs' is not any life essential food items but avoidable food and drinks stuff.

And yet to take such a huge politically extraordinary decision, the thirst for their products amongst the consumers would need to be quenched or redirected to better, and healthy (I am assuming that most that these BIG FIVE produce is avoidable and hence junk food) food and beverages.

If it is otherwise and thus assumably a demand for their products would still be around then newer players would begin to fill the void and since water would still be used (may be now by much more than FIVE companies) we would still be left with water shortages that these BIG FIVE are responsible for.

Kindly clear my ignorance, if any in the matter.

Warm regards,

Manoj Misra

Anonymous said...

Mr Devinder Sharma has made a strong plea to close down five big food and beverage companies so that water they consume is saved for the planet earth. It appears very logical and convincing. But let us think about what is 'consumed'. What part of it includes water that turns up in the product and thus available to society for use, wastewater that is treated and discharged to replenish natural sources of water and water that evaporates and joins other moisture to reappear in some form like dew, cloud or rain. If this aspect of water balance is considered duly quantified, the loss and gain of water will have a different perspective.
I wish to assure that I have no brief from the food and beverage industry and wish also to add that I agree with the comments made by Mr Sharma about the economics of interlinking of rivers and the significance of lifestyle in the conservation of resources.

Paritosh Tyagi

Anonymous said...

So we have found out the villains in the water sector?. The beverage companies are solely responsible for all the problems in this sector. There is no need to go in search of any other factors as we have succeeded in finding out or singling put the real/imaginary culprit.
What portion of water the companies sourced were really available to the society at large?. The runaway flow due to rains are not benefited by the people. The surface water or shallow well water or the water-level up to whoch the trickling down effect of surface water could reach or the rechargeable or replenishing level in each season have not been the sorce of water for the socalled 'culprits'. They extracted water trapped deep and got it through modern machinaries invented due to the exigencies of the situation. Think of the scenario that the companies were not there and the deep bore well water remains there. Nothing will change. The problem of water scarcity arisen due to the modern lifestyle and the steam boilers and so many industrial uses would have been still there but with out any scape-goats to target. The car radiators use a sizable quantum of water for sooling the engines. But the urban elites can't lthink of a society with out cars or vehicles.
Water is available only seasonally so much so it has to be harvested, stored. and judiciously utilised. Store run away water in storages called as 'dams'.

from WaterWatch)

Anonymous said...

Omission is the most powerful form of lie, said George Orwell. The current economic policy of the central & state governments, political parties and companies is an open declaration of war against our ecosystem. L K Advani in his most recent interview in Frontline (May 8, 2009) was asked about the undependable devices of market economy and whether there would be course correction in the policy perspectives of NDA pursued during its six years in the office. Advani replied, "that the steps we took in the direction of improving our infrastructure is the right economic policy direction. the steps we took...to set up a task force on interlink rivers are part of this direction.We will continue to follow that line." The same policies were followed by the Congress led UPA government. It is indeed a relief that both Mr Tyagi and Mr Sharma have rejected the manifesto of BJP and DMK because they support ecologically disastrous project like Interlinking of Rivers because rejecting this project also means rejecting the current National policies on Industry,Water, Agriculture, Power, Urban Development etc but it must be put on record that during the six years of NDA government neither Mr Tyagi nor Mr Sharma were visible in opposing the mega project when this project was being bulldozed by the Supreme Court, President Kalam, FICCI, Praful Maheshwari(editor/owner of central chronicle) & likes of M S Swaminathan, Subramaniam Swamy, Suresh Prabhu, B G Verghese with the active support of all parties of Tamil Nadu and passive support of Sangh Parivar. Although belated your support to stop Diversion of Rivers must be appreciated to expose the corporate institutions like FICCI and companies which fund political parties that are pursuing this monstrous project.

(from WaterWatch)

pavithra said...

hello this is pavithra from greenpeace. I am currently compiling a report on how the erratic monsoons are having an impact on Indian agriculture. This is part of our climate change campign. we'd like your inputs. Please email me - paselvam@greenpeace.org

Shankar said...

Mr. Sharma,
I am a writer with Knowledge@Wharton based in the U.S. and currently visiting India. I'd like to interview you for a story on the latest budget proposals for rural India. Could you please call me on my local cell 99206-20772, since I don't know how to reach you? I'm currently in Bangalore, and have to write my story by Saturday p.m. Thank you -- Shankar P.

Anonymous said...

Please help farmers via agnihotra homa farming.

People also need to made aware of recycle, minimum use of plastic.

Broadcasting should be changed by showing positive and constructive programs. Reality shows and any other destructive form labeled "entertainment" must be soon uprooted.

Bharat needs awakening now else the heritage will be buried under materialists lies and a dark web of ignorance.

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Diarist said...

@Professor Sharma this is Chris from media relations at NestlĂ©. Thanks for directing us to this interesting blogpost from your twitter account. You won’t be surprised to hear we don’t share your view that the five biggest global food companies should be shut down. If that were the case, what guarantee would there be that those enterprises that took their place would be any more efficient? We are focused on increasing the efficiency of our water usage. This page on our website shows the progress we have made in this area: http://www.nestle.com/csv/water/operations Please, if you haven’t already, visit our chairman’s blog http://www.water-challenge.com/default.aspx and join the debate on the comments section there. The points you raise are important and we welcome the opportunity to engage with you on this and other issues surrounding water.