Photo by Peter Kovalev via Getty Images

Water is scarce in San Cristóbal de las Casas, and the average person drinks more than two liters of Coca-Cola every day

Mike Pomranz
July 16, 2018

Imagine living in a world where water is too scarce or too expensive, so instead, you survive off a far more readily available beverage: Coca-Cola. This scenario sounds like something out of a dystopian novel—or maybe even a sequel to Idiocracy—but there’s nothing funny about what is being described as an epidemic in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a Mexican town of over 150,000 people where a shortage of potable water has led the average resident to drink more than two liters of Coca-Cola every day.

As the New York Times explained in a recent report, the city’s dependence on Coca-Cola has led to a 30 percent increase in the mortality rate from diabetes in Chiapas, the Mexican state where San Cristóbal is located, between 2013 and 2016. Diabetes reportedly is now second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death in the region, with over 3,000 people dying from diabetes each year. “Soft drinks have always been more available than water,” one resident told the Times.

But the relationship between San Cristóbal and Coca-Cola is actually far more complicated than these statistics indicate. The city is also home to a massive Coca-Cola bottling plant—a facility that’s said to have permits allowing it to use over 300,000 gallons of water per day. “When you see that institutions aren’t providing something as basic as water and sanitation, but you have this company with secure access to one of the best water sources, of course it gives you a shock,” Fermin Reygadas, who directs an organization that provides clean water to rural communities, told the Times.

However, again, things aren’t as straightforward as they may seem. Though the owners of the Coca-Cola plant obviously have a vested interest in saying they aren’t the problem, their argument is that there are multiple issues causing the water shortage, including the local infrastructure which isn’t properly constructed or maintained to provide residents with enough water. Meanwhile, the plant’s water agreement is with federal, not local authorities, complicating matters further. And reportedly, even when the owner of the Coca-Cola facility offered to build a water treatment plant, some locals protested, saying the government should be providing these services instead.

Meanwhile, things will likely continue to get worse. “When I was a kid and used to come here, Chamula was isolated and didn’t have access to processed food,” Vicente Vaqueiros, a doctor in a nearby town, told the Times. “Now, you see the kids drinking Coke and not water. Right now, diabetes is hitting the adults, but it’s going to be the kids next. It’s going to overwhelm us.”

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