The use of an aquifer to make Coca-Cola threatens the water of 30,000 people in El Salvador

The use of an aquifer to make Coca-Cola threatens the water of 30,000 people in El Salvador

A recent report by Alianza por la Solidaridad, which includes the work carried out by the Water Forum, denounces that the new expansion plans, which aim to produce bottled water from another brand [Cristal], will have even more critical consequences for the aquifer and the population. The study, prepared by a renowned hydrologist in the country, Julio Quiñonez, concludes that the project could end the water in the aquifer in the next 27 or 30 years. With the expansion, the company would go from consuming 39.31 liters per second to 69.83, according to its figures.

But the effects of the bottling activity are already noticeable, say Nejapa residents. This important natural reserve supplies water to almost half the population of the capital and is key for the 30,000 inhabitants of the municipality. The great paradox is that, while Nejapenses observe the coming and going of trucks loaded with drinks on a daily basis, 40% of households do not have access to drinking water and in those where it exists, the supply does not arrive continuously and the cost is high. has contacted La Constancia, as well as the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Spain, but at the time of publishing this information, it still has not received a response. Several NGOs have launched a campaign of signatures against the actions of the multinational in El Salvador.

"There is more Coca-Cola than water," says community leader Ines Flores on the other end of the phone. "We see Coca-Cola everywhere, it is everywhere, there are those who stop drinking natural soft drinks but Coca-Cola should not be absent. We are not aware of the damage that Coca-Cola causes us," Flores underlines, one of the Nejapenses who has taken up the fight against the carbonated beverage giant and its bottler, which they accuse of not reversing the benefits it obtains from its resources on society and who, in 2013, submitted a request to expand its facilities for the purpose of producing Cristal brand bottled water there.

Geological studies carried out by these organizations warn of the collapse of the aquifer. The expansion requested by the company would mean an operation at 200% of its recharging capacity. For this reason, they warn, the water will run out in the next 27 or 30 years. "People see an imminent threat, the river is running out of water, they feel cheated. When our resources run out, the companies will leave, we will be the ones who will stay with the problem, that is clear to people," says Karen Ramírez , manager of the Water and Sanitation program of the Provida organization.

"An immense majority of rural communities do not have water, we have it rationed, we have water every two or three days while multinationals extract a huge amount per second," highlights Ines Flores while highlighting how this shortage ends up generating problems hygiene or epidemics. "There is a community called Tutultepeque, one kilometer from it a dirty river runs down into which sewage from the capital runs and there people go. They have made a hole on the river bank and from there they fill water", adds this man who has led protests to the cry of "water is not for sale, water is defended."

"The value of the Water Forum's research is that the study supports what people say. It was the communities who came to tell us about the water problem, they wondered how it was possible that the Coca-Cola subcontractor told them that water It is enough for everyone when it is not like that, when it arrives rationalized, when there is no longer any in this or that river, or it is contaminated ... They made the analysis from their daily lives, "explains Ramírez.

Problems with water give rise to situations like those of the Las Mercedes school. Karen Ramírez says that this school does not have access to drinking water. "Boys and girls sometimes have to suspend classes, a public school without water. We consider that it is very painful and outrageous to see how in your community there are companies that are generating wealth from water and that here its lack causes that there are no classes. What kind of development is this? ", wonders the head of Provida. Karen accuses the state and the transnationals "of violating the human rights of the people of Nejapa."

The bottler's plans

La Constancia / Sap Miller began its production in Nejapa in 1999. The Coca-Cola bottling plant had moved to this municipality after the Soyapango aquifer had depleted. At that time, there was no Environmental Law in the country and the company obtained the activity permit without any prior analysis of the environmental and social impacts that it would generate.

In 2013, the extension request was accompanied by its corresponding report. According to the study prepared by the company, each year 15.65 million cubic meters of water are extracted from the aquifer, with a recharge of 21.76 million. La Constancia affirms that its consumption would increase by 79.1 cubic meters per month. However, social organizations denounce that the company has not allowed technicians from the municipality's Environmental Unit to enter to verify these data. The figures do not coincide with those obtained from the research carried out by a renowned hydrologist in the country, Julio Quiñonez, co-financed by various organizations, including AECID.

This report determines that currently what is extracted per year is 34.67 million cubic meters. In addition, while in 1999 the water was drawn from one of the wells to a depth of 31.04 meters, in 2012, it was lowered to 75.69 meters. With the expansion, the company would go from consuming 39.31 liters per second to 69.83. That is why, they emphasize, that in 30 years, 27 taking into account climate change, the Nejapa aquifer will be depleted.

And what does the State think? Lina Pohl, the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of the government chaired by Salvador Sánchez Cerén, admits the critical state of water resources in her country, a problem that she attributes to scarcity and pollution but also recognizes from Madrid on the occasion of his official visit to Spain, to the exploitation and mismanagement of them. Pohl, who arrived at the ministry in June 2014 after the electoral victory of Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMNL), hopes that during the current mandate, after 30 years of attempts, a General Water Law will be approved and recognized the human right to water in the Constitution, something that is claimed by civil society but has always been overthrown in the Legislative Assembly.

"There are still very strong interests, private interests that continue to want to impose themselves on the public interest, who want to keep this resource as a commodity and not as a right," says the minister, who does not clarify whether the extension to La Constancia will be granted: "We are evaluating it and in the event that it obtained the permit, it would have to compensate what it takes out of the aquifer, but we still don't know if that is possible.

Coca-Cola's "Commitment" to the Environment

Civil society demands responsibility and that they really be compensated for their activity. A simple glance at the environmental responsibility section of the Coca-Cola website is enough to verify the supposed commitment of the transnational to "return to nature the same amount of water it consumes." That is what is also requested from Nejapa. "Coca-Cola is committed to returning the water they extract to the aquifers drop by drop and this is proposed as a global commitment. We are verifying that this is not being fulfilled here", reveals Ramírez.

"What we are seeing is a very strong campaign to mobilize resources, image and publicity. Their strategy with the communities is" bread and circuses. "They participate in the patron saint festivities, give away food, refreshments, organize sports championships, plant a tree. , etc. But these are not systematic liability measures, they are isolated actions. There is a very misleading publicity, "says Ramírez. Ines Flores agrees with her. "How many people are fooled by these lying advertisements? When they wanted to expand, they held a popular consultation, invited people to assemblies, gave them a good lunch and a rigged study where they made them believe that the water would never run out and in return They offered support and jobs, something totally false because only 15 Nejapenses work at the Coca-Cola plant, "Flores denies.

According to the Alianza por la Solidaridad report, the actions of a social nature promoted by La Constancia are usually carried out by two NGOs (ASISTEDCOS and FUNDE), "their NGOs" -matizes Flores- and they are summarized in: some scholarships, soccer shoes for some young people, some fish tanks for the mayor's office, small reforestation projects, refreshments for the communities, water tanks in a school and other specific activities.

Karen Ramírez draws attention to how difficult it is to make this complaint public to the media. "Just mentioning the name of the company is enough, they are advertisers and will never take it out," he laments. Your request, that of the Water Forum and the Alliance for Solidarity, is not that Coca-Cola shut down. "What we want is for you to desist from this expansion and comply with the commitments it has acquired. We are a fragile country, where there is a lack of regulations, but Coca-Cola has made commitments at a global level. We think that El Salvador is worthy of compliance. also in our territory ".

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