Update: Today the Daily Kos reports that #Nestlé, the Swiss conglomerate bigger than a star, "is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from #Sacramento aquifers during a record drought." In Ankara, unfortunately, I was part of the problem.
One day while living in Ankara when I was driving through one of the dusty grey tunnels toward my friend, Heleen’s, house for her son, Sasha’s, birthday party, I began to wonder where the river was as I emerged out of the tunnel into the city center. And then I thought of something I hadn’t considered before: where does the water that we order every week come from?
Nestlé, the company we bought our weekly supply from, claims to get the water it sells in Turkey from, as the company describes it, “the many natural springs on the slopes of the snow-capped Mount Uludag, one of Turkey’s highest mountains.”
Mount Uludag is in Bursa, not far from Istanbul. I couldn’t help but think that the water we need to survive is often extracted from sources distant from the places we are living, even as those places grow to bulging, like a middle-aged waist against a too-tight belt. This means that as those populations grow water may necessarily come from even still further away, as has been the case in Ankara. Then there is Nestlé’s existence as a supranational profit-oriented entity stepping in to provide a basic need to people who can afford it (for a profit), people who are willing to pay in order to have clean water when governments fail to do so.
After we returned from Turkey, there was a film due out about Nestlé called, “Nestlé: Bottled Life, The Truth about Nestlé’s Business with Water,” by a Swiss filmmaker named Urs Schnell. In the trailer, the filmmaker shows Maude Barlow, a United Nations First Senior Advisor on Water, saying about Nestlé: “They’re water hunters looking for the last pure water in the world.” Schnell also claims that Nestlé dug a deep well in Bhati Dilwan, Pakistan, depriving locals of potable water, a practice, the film says, the company deploys anywhere it can get away with it, and that Nestlé pays $10 for a tank of water for which it makes $50,000.
I did not know whether these accusations were true, but it is true that Nestlé is the world’s leading bottled water company with at least 74 brands of water – an absurd concept, really – in 130 countries. Nestlé continues to, as it calls it, “develop its water exploration activities to further increase the capacity needed to meet a fast growing market” in Turkey, a country (or market) it entered in 2002. In its public relations, the company says that it also “promotes local initiatives to meet the water supply needs of local villagers (both drinking and irrigation water) by implementing new catchment works, dedicated pipelines and storage tanks. Local villagers also receive financial grants from Nestlé on a yearly basis to be used for community initiatives,” making it sound as if it is doing all of this for the public good rather than for company profit.
Turkey is a developing country where the average annual income is $10,000, about like Mexico’s. The $700 we spent on the water cooler we bought our first month in Ankara must be an impossible sum to most Turks. And anyway, is relying on a private supply really the direction people want to go? Shouldn’t implementing new catchment works be the work of government? How far are we willing to let supranational entities whose entire reason for being is to create wealth for their shareholders go in filling a basic need when governments fail to do so? Governments fail to do so in no small measure when they fail to regulate industry and industrial pollutants to begin with, as is the case in Ankara.
It seems that what little rainfall there is over Anatolia as it continues to dry out, a powerful Swiss company is catching and selling to elites like me.