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13:20

Mexico: 'Magic drink' - Chiapas faces diabetes spike as Coca-Cola dries up wells

Mexico, Chiapas
November 15, 2018 at 16:33 GMT +00:00 · Published

Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas is running low on safe drinking water, with some households having access to running water just a few times a week.

"In the region, there are highly polluted water conditions, which turn the most vulnerable regions into the poorest ones that have less access to services and resources," says Paloma Mejia of the 'Safe Water in Schools' Programme at the Cantaro Azul Foundation.

As potable water becomes increasingly scarce, local residents resort to soda, drinking on average more than two liters (0.528 gallons) of soda per day.

Coca-Cola, the most popular sugary drink available in Mexico's southeastern state, is often more accessible than bottled water and is almost as cheap, with a 1.5-liter Coca Cola bottle costing around 18 Mexican pesos ($0.88/€0.77), as compared to water, which is around 10 Mexican pesos ($0.48/€0.43) per bottle.

Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at the Cantaro Azul Foundation, argues that Coca-Cola took advantage of the state's failure to provide safe drinking water in the region, which she says "is not a problem of availability but of poor water management" and a lack of wastewater treatment.

Gutierrez says that Coca-Cola's reach is "impressive," noting that "even in the most remote areas, you can find Coca-Cola."

Due to its availability, Coca-Cola has become deeply embedded in the local culture. The Coca-Cola logo is ubiquitous and can be seen everywhere, adorning local pharmacies, restaurants and village entrances.

According to Rigoberto Alfaro, a teacher at the Autonomous University of Chiapas, Coca-Cola's commercial strategy which ensures that the price of the carbonated soda is higher in cities than in suburbs, has resulted in local residents using the drink "as a form of currency."

The carbonated soda is also used in religious rituals performed by the indigenous Tzotzil population. Indigenous healer Maria Lopez, who has replaced the traditional Mayan ritual drink 'pox' with Coca-Cola, says that a sick person needs one or two Coca-Cola bottles in order to heal.

Some churches also see people bring Coca-Cola "as an offering, not as a sugary drink," according to Gutierrez.

"With the introduction of Coca-Cola in glass bottles, [indigenous] communities saw it as something mystical, not only because of its form but also because of its flavour," Alfaro says adding that the indigenous population has adopted it "as if it were something from Gods, a magic drink." He explains that it is challenging to reduce the consumption of Coca-cola in the region as it is seen not only as a consumer product but also as an item that has "a spiritual value."

According to Head of the Nutrition Department at the San Cristobal de las Casas Hospital Luis Alberto Ferrera, five out of ten indigenous people consume soft drinks on a daily basis, which has unleashed obesity and diabetes among the indigenous population.

Mexico ranks second among OECD members for adult obesity, leading the government to declare it an epidemiological emergency. An estimated 13 million people aged over 20 years of age from a population of 121.5 million people are living with diabetes, according to Mexico's 2016 mid-term National Health and Nutrition Survey. The World Health Organization reported in 2016 that diabetes was the leading cause of death in Mexico with 76,000 lives lost to to the disease in that year. From 2007-2017 mortality from diabetes increased by 78 percent.

Health officials and consumer activists say that Coca-Cola's spike in popularity, along with that of other high calorie foods and sugared drinks, have played a large roll in damaging public health.

In 2014, Mexico introduced a 10 % tax on sugared drink, which reportedly provide 70% of all added sugar consumed, in an attempt to decrease consumption. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in 2016 a minimum 20% tax to achieve significant changes in consumption and health.

Coca-Cola is produced by Femsa's plant, which bottles and sells Coca-Cola across Mexico. Under a long-standing agreement with the Mexican government, the facility owns the rights to draw out more than 1,135,623 liters (300,000 gallons) of water per day.

Last spring, demonstrators descended on the plant, urging the government to close down the factory, citing the deadly consequences the beverage has on the local population.

Coca-Cola executives have denied the accusations, placing the blame for the chronic water shortage on a lack of state investment, poor planning and crumbling infrastructure.

Ruptly has asked for a comment from Coca-Cola FEMSA, but so far has not received a reply.

In a July 2018 press release on their website, the Coca-Cola Company say they recognise the challenges faced by the San Cristobal community and "we have been working with them for nearly a decade to provide community water tanks, roof-top water collectors, and water conservation projects to help address this issue."

The company also states that their bottling plant pays a market rate set and regulated by the government based on its water use in Chiapas. "No matter where we operate, we are constantly evaluating the sustainability of our water use and ensuring that our business does not interfere with the needs of the community."

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Description

Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas is running low on safe drinking water, with some households having access to running water just a few times a week.

"In the region, there are highly polluted water conditions, which turn the most vulnerable regions into the poorest ones that have less access to services and resources," says Paloma Mejia of the 'Safe Water in Schools' Programme at the Cantaro Azul Foundation.

As potable water becomes increasingly scarce, local residents resort to soda, drinking on average more than two liters (0.528 gallons) of soda per day.

Coca-Cola, the most popular sugary drink available in Mexico's southeastern state, is often more accessible than bottled water and is almost as cheap, with a 1.5-liter Coca Cola bottle costing around 18 Mexican pesos ($0.88/€0.77), as compared to water, which is around 10 Mexican pesos ($0.48/€0.43) per bottle.

Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at the Cantaro Azul Foundation, argues that Coca-Cola took advantage of the state's failure to provide safe drinking water in the region, which she says "is not a problem of availability but of poor water management" and a lack of wastewater treatment.

Gutierrez says that Coca-Cola's reach is "impressive," noting that "even in the most remote areas, you can find Coca-Cola."

Due to its availability, Coca-Cola has become deeply embedded in the local culture. The Coca-Cola logo is ubiquitous and can be seen everywhere, adorning local pharmacies, restaurants and village entrances.

According to Rigoberto Alfaro, a teacher at the Autonomous University of Chiapas, Coca-Cola's commercial strategy which ensures that the price of the carbonated soda is higher in cities than in suburbs, has resulted in local residents using the drink "as a form of currency."

The carbonated soda is also used in religious rituals performed by the indigenous Tzotzil population. Indigenous healer Maria Lopez, who has replaced the traditional Mayan ritual drink 'pox' with Coca-Cola, says that a sick person needs one or two Coca-Cola bottles in order to heal.

Some churches also see people bring Coca-Cola "as an offering, not as a sugary drink," according to Gutierrez.

"With the introduction of Coca-Cola in glass bottles, [indigenous] communities saw it as something mystical, not only because of its form but also because of its flavour," Alfaro says adding that the indigenous population has adopted it "as if it were something from Gods, a magic drink." He explains that it is challenging to reduce the consumption of Coca-cola in the region as it is seen not only as a consumer product but also as an item that has "a spiritual value."

According to Head of the Nutrition Department at the San Cristobal de las Casas Hospital Luis Alberto Ferrera, five out of ten indigenous people consume soft drinks on a daily basis, which has unleashed obesity and diabetes among the indigenous population.

Mexico ranks second among OECD members for adult obesity, leading the government to declare it an epidemiological emergency. An estimated 13 million people aged over 20 years of age from a population of 121.5 million people are living with diabetes, according to Mexico's 2016 mid-term National Health and Nutrition Survey. The World Health Organization reported in 2016 that diabetes was the leading cause of death in Mexico with 76,000 lives lost to to the disease in that year. From 2007-2017 mortality from diabetes increased by 78 percent.

Health officials and consumer activists say that Coca-Cola's spike in popularity, along with that of other high calorie foods and sugared drinks, have played a large roll in damaging public health.

In 2014, Mexico introduced a 10 % tax on sugared drink, which reportedly provide 70% of all added sugar consumed, in an attempt to decrease consumption. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in 2016 a minimum 20% tax to achieve significant changes in consumption and health.

Coca-Cola is produced by Femsa's plant, which bottles and sells Coca-Cola across Mexico. Under a long-standing agreement with the Mexican government, the facility owns the rights to draw out more than 1,135,623 liters (300,000 gallons) of water per day.

Last spring, demonstrators descended on the plant, urging the government to close down the factory, citing the deadly consequences the beverage has on the local population.

Coca-Cola executives have denied the accusations, placing the blame for the chronic water shortage on a lack of state investment, poor planning and crumbling infrastructure.

Ruptly has asked for a comment from Coca-Cola FEMSA, but so far has not received a reply.

In a July 2018 press release on their website, the Coca-Cola Company say they recognise the challenges faced by the San Cristobal community and "we have been working with them for nearly a decade to provide community water tanks, roof-top water collectors, and water conservation projects to help address this issue."

The company also states that their bottling plant pays a market rate set and regulated by the government based on its water use in Chiapas. "No matter where we operate, we are constantly evaluating the sustainability of our water use and ensuring that our business does not interfere with the needs of the community."

W/S Indigenous healer performing healing ritual

M/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

C/U Coca-Cola used in ritual

M/S Coca-Cola used in ritual

SOT, Maria Lopez, Indigenous healer (Spanish): "Coca-Cola is an offering for daily work and an offering to God."

W/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

M/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

M/S Coca-Cola used in ritual

SOT, Maria Lopez, Indigenous healer (Spanish): "[Coca-Cola] is the same as pox [Mayan drink made with sugar cane], and it serves to remove all evils and keep the heart happy."

M/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

M/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

C/U Ritual

SOT, Journalist (Spanish): "And that cures, does Coca-Cola cure?"

Maria Lopez, Indigenous healer (Spanish): "Oh yes, drinking it [Coca-Cola] will take [everything bad] out of your body. Yes."

M/S Indigenous healer giving Coca-Cola to young man

SOT, Maria Lopez, Indigenous healer (Spanish): "One person needs one or two Coca-Cola bottles [in order to heal], and then you press your hand."

M/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

C/U Eggs used in ritual

M/S Indigenous healer performing ritual

W/S San Cristobal centre

W/S Local residents

W/S Local residents

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "First, we have a failure of the state that does not provide safe water, and then Coca-Cola, like any other company, takes advantage of the gap that must be filled. People need water or something to drink, so Coca-Cola comes in. It is not only a lack of service by the state but also a lack of information, the kind of information that helps you make wise decisions as a consumer. So there is this gap, and Coca-Cola can fill it in, and it does it very well. It also comes in a context that for them it has been very opportune because culturally people have adopted Coca-Cola in a very strong way. They introduced it and appropriated it to their culture."

W/S Main entrance to San Juan Chamula and Coca-Cola truck

M/S Coca-Cola truck

M/S Coca-Cola sign

W/S Coca-Cola patio outdoor umbrellas and tables

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director, Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "People at church take a bottle of Coca-Cola or Pepsi as an offering, a sugary drink in any case, and it is part of the offering."

M/S Exterior of Church of St Juan Bautista at San Juan Chamula main square

W/S Exterior of Church of St Juan Bautista at San Juan Chamula main square

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "In San Cristobal and in the surrounding municipalities, water is not drinkable, and safe water is not provided. Here and in any part of Mexico, you cannot drink tap water unlike in many countries, even in Latin America, where you can."

W/S Polluted river

C/U Garbage in river

M/S Garbage in river

SOT, Paloma Mejia, 'Safe Water in Schools' Programme at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "In the region, there are highly polluted water conditions, which turn the most vulnerable regions into the poorest ones that have less access to services and resources."

W/S Local residents

W/S Local residents

W/S Local residents

SOT, Paloma Mejia, 'Safe Water in Schools' Programme at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "There are also critical health problems, in particular gastrointestinal diseases, due to poor water quality and poor nutrition."

M/S Street

W/S San Juan Chamula street

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "Coca-Cola is also cheaper here than in other places, and it reaches all communities. Its reach is impressive. Even in the most remote areas, you can find Coca-Cola."

W/S Mountain

W/S Cows

M/S Coca-Cola logo on restaurant

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "In Chiapas, the problem is very complex because together with the state of Tabasco, there are some states with the most water, and people ask, 'Why do they not have drinking water?' It is different in the north of the country, but in the south it is not a problem of availability but of poor water management."

W/S Polluted river in San Cristobal

M/S Polluted river

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director, Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "We believe that it is a structural problem. It is an absence, an omission of the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations. According to Article 115 of the Mexican Constitution, municipalities have the obligation to provide water and sanitation services to the entire population, but they often do not have the capacity or the budget to comply with this obligation."

W/S Polluted river

M/S Polluted river

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "In Chiapas, there are 124 municipalities and only 35 have water operators, the rest of the municipalities attend to the water issue as best as they can."

C/U Polluted river

M/S Polluted river

SOT, Margarita Gutierrez, Systemic Change and Political Incidence Director at Cantaro Azul Foundation (Spanish): "Historically, indigenous people did not consume as much sugar as people in the West, and suddenly they began to consume it, and they became much more addicted. Biologically, they can be more addicted to soft drinks. They also do not have the information to make a decision. They do not know that Coca-Cola can cause diabetes, obesity and that it can harm their teeth. Information is missing. And they do not have other options, like drinking water."

M/S Coca-Cola sign

M/S Pharmacy with Coca-Cola sign

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "With the introduction of Coca-Cola in glass bottles, [indigenous] communities saw it as something mystical, not only because of its form but also because of its flavour."

M/S Coca-Cola bottles

C/U Coca-Cola bottles

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "That allowed people to adopt it as such and give a mystical flavour to the soft drink."

M/S Coca-Cola bottles

M/S Coca-Cola bottles

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "When indigenous people offer you a Coca-Cola, it is as if they offer you the best because they have assumed it as such, as if it were something from Gods, a magic drink, something like that."

W/S Coca-Cola vending machine

M/S Coca-Cola vending machine

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "In indigenous cultures, they use pox, which has always been the ritual drink par excellence, but now Coca-Cola is on the same level."

W/S Local residents at market

W/S Local residents at market

M/S Local residents walking

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "They use it in their rites, and it cannot be absent also at parties. It has a fairly strong use as a bargaining chip."

W/S Empty Coca-Cola bottles

C/U Coca-Cola cans

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "When people have to give a dowry for some young person, they have to pay in cash or the equivalent in bottles of Coca-Cola. This kind of situation has occurred as [Coca-Cola] has so much value. And the company has made a very interesting commercial strategy - in the city the price of a Coca-Cola has a value but in rural areas it is cheaper."

C/U Coca-Cola World Cup Trophy Tour advertisement

C/U Coca-Cola price tag

SOT, Rigoberto Alfaro, Teacher at Social Science Faculty in Autonomous University of Chiapas (Spanish): "If a person does not have money, he can use the soft drink as a form of currency."

M/S People waiting

W/S People waiting

M/S Indigenous woman on physician scale

C/U Indigenous woman on physician scale

M/S Indigenous woman on physician scale

SOT, Luis Alberto Ferrera, Head of Department of Nutrition, Hospital of Cultures, San Cristobal de las Casas (Spanish): "One of the big consequences is the type of diseases that people come to the hospital with, among them are obesity and diabetes, which are unleashed as a result of the excessive consumption of gaseous and sweetened soft drinks."

M/S Nurse preparing to check blood pressure of indigenous woman

C/U Indigenous woman's blood pressure being measured

SOT, Luis Alberto Ferrera, Head of Department of Nutrition, Hospital of Cultures, San Cristobal de las Casas (Spanish): "The indigenous population comes us to treat this type of suffering - obesity, malnutrition, hypertension and diabetes."

M/S Indigenous woman

SOT, Luis Alberto Ferrera, Head of Department of Nutrition, Hospital of Cultures, San Cristobal de las Casas (Spanish): "[The soft drink] is now consumed at an early age. They [indigenous people] know that their body [at an early age] is not going to show the effects now, but as time goes by, along with the lack of a good diet, it [the soft drink] will begin to worsen their health."

W/S Indigenous woman during medical check-up

M/S Indigenous woman during medical check-up

C/U Indigenous woman during medical check-up

M/S Indigenous woman during medical check-up

SOT, Luis Alberto Ferrera, Head of Department of Nutrition, Hospital of Cultures, San Cristobal de las Casas (Spanish): "Previously, it was discussed that 30 percent, or three out of ten [people] of the indigenous population consumed soft drinks. Now we can say that five [out of ten] people drink soft drinks, and the public health problem is aggravated by the lack of education. But I can tell you that currently five out of ten people consume soft drinks."

C/U Medical equipment

SOT, Luis Alberto Ferrera, Head of Department of Nutrition, Hospital of Cultures, San Cristobal de las Casas (Spanish): "Marketing brings us closer to these products, and we keep up the consumption of these soft drinks. That applies not only to the indigenous, we as professionals and people from urban areas also consume this type of soft drinks."

W/S Indigenous woman entering room

SOT, Luis Alberto Ferrera, Head of Department of Nutrition, Hospital of Cultures, San Cristobal de las Casas (Spanish): "Our work is to help the population stop consuming this kind of soft drinks or help them moderate the consumption in order to prevent this type of disease."

M/S Indigenous woman on physician scale

C/U Indigenous woman on physician scale

M/S Indigenous woman on physician scale

SOT, Veronica Jimenez, Indigenous woman diagnosed with diabetes (Maya language Tzotzil): "I was diagnosed with diabetes since March of this year. I have had my regular check-up appointments since December, and that was when they detected 'the sugar disease.'"

W/S Indigenous woman and health professional

SOT, Veronica Jimenez, Indigenous woman diagnosed with diabetes (Maya language Tzotzil): "When I was told by the nurses about this disease, I stopped consuming any type of soft drinks."

C/U Health professional

SOT, Veronica Jimenez, Indigenous woman diagnosed with diabetes (Maya language Tzotzil): "In my house, I do have drinking water, and that's what I consume now because of my illness."

W/S Indigenous woman during dental check-up

M/S Indigenous woman during dental check-up

C/U Indigenous woman during dental check-up

M/S Indigenous woman during dental check-up

C/U Medical supplies

W/S Indigenous people

W/S Street

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