I was in Mumbai (Bombay), India last week and learned that the reality of securing water, for bathing, drinking, and cooking, for many of the 15 million citizens of Mumbai is a tanker truck like this one I saw as I walked around the city.

When such tankers pull into a neighborhood, people line up, sometimes for an hour or more and pay to have containers filled with water that they then carry home. If Mumbai people are willing to pay more (and can afford to) water can be delivered to their homes or businesses. What’s worse is that this water they are purchasing does not meet safe drinking standards.

There are municipal (and private) piped water services in Mumbai but these do not serve the entire population; availability of this water at the tap can be intermittent, at times; and the quality is not always up to safe levels.

I went to Mumbai, along with Deepak Jolly (VP Public Affairs and Communications for India from our office in New Delhi) for meetings of the United Nations Global Compact’s (UNGC) CEO Water Mandate.

.The Mandate, which The Coca-Cola Company joined at its launch in 2007, is a public-private initiative, led by the UN and designed to assist companies in the development, implementation, and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices. We focus on six things: direct operations, supply chains and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement and transparency.

The discussions last week center on the role of business engaging government on water policy reform, collective action, and providing input to the next generation of UN sustainable development goals related to access to clean drinking water (which close to 1 billion people do not have), access to improved sanitation (candidly, a basic toilet, which some 2.4 billion people do not have), and the importance of hygiene.

Greg Koch self-portrait

Self-portrait from a field visit to the Watershed Organization Trust’s community water project in Sangamner taluka, some 250 miles northeast of Mumbai.

Water stewardship is a strategic sustainability priority for Coca-Cola and the topics we discussed with the Mandate are wholly relevant to our business, which depends so much on water (e.g., as the main ingredient in the majority of our products, for the manufacturing of our products, to grow the agricultural ingredients used in our products, to sustain the communities that form our markets). A key element of our strategy is helping communities gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene and we do that in partnership with them, local governments, and co-finance and implementation partners such as USAID, UNDP, CARE, and Water for People.

These topics are also critically relevant to our business in India where some 128 million people lack access to improved water sources (that tanker counts as “improved access” by some calculations but people without access to sustainable supplies of safe drinking water is much higher). Our business has responded with innovative projects:

  • In partnership with NDTV and their NGO partners, we are participating in the “Support My School” campaign, aimed at developing more than 100 healthy, active and happy schools in rural and semi-urban towns by improving basic amenities and subsequently generating monetary resources, benefiting more than 50,000 students across the country.

While highly relevant to our business, more importantly, the topics of policy reform, collective action, and access to safe, clean drinking water are most relevant to the very people who rely on these tankers. Revisiting their reality last week makes me want to do more.

Cricket in India

Snapped a shot of locals playing a game of cricket (the national sport of India) in a large park near the city center of Mumbai.

Greg Koch is Director of Global Water Stewardship at The Coca-Cola Company.