Recovering from Nepal’s Earthquake
How One Company is Helping to Rebuild
Disclosure: Coca-Cola sponsored my travel, accommodations and other expenses to Nepal. I attended as an independent blogger who is passionate about empowering women. All opinions are my own.
Listen to our podcast for more in-depth conversation about empowering women in developing countries: Go Adventure Podcast (click here for iTunes).
April 25, 2015 Earthquake
For decades trekkers, climbers and adventurers journey to Nepal to be surrounded by some of the tallest mountains on earth. Recently, I traveled to Nepal, not to trek or embark on a spiritual journey. I went to witness how The Coca Cola Company has helped rebuild villages and empower women.
I remember hearing about the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal a year and a half earlier. It wasn’t until I met people affected by the disaster that I realized the personal devastation. People shared their fears of going outside, returning to work or school, and getting back to simple tasks. I spoke with a man whose legs were partially crushed while his wife died, buried under the rubble beside him.
The Immediate Need for Clean Water
During a natural disaster, basic needs have to be met. Clean water, shelter and food are critical.
The Nepali Coca Cola management team, first provided care for its employees, then assessed the damage to the bottling facility and within 44 days got it running. They donated 20,000 cases of clean Kinley water to support the community and The Coca Cola Foundation supported the Nepal Red Cross Society with a $1 million grant. In doing so, they were able to assist 75,00 people in 15,000 households.
5by20 Initiative and Nepal
5by20 is Coca Cola’s initiative to economically empower 5 million women across its value chain in developing countries by the year 2020.
Nepal is one of the countries its working with to empower women. After the earthquake, it became apparent in order to help economically empower women in Nepal, they needed to help to rebuild, provide access to clean water, and motivate girls to return to school.
Rebuilding Bhurunchuli Village and Bath House
After providing clean water, they saw the need for resilient low cost housing. Coca Cola partnered with creasion, a NGO, to help rebuild the badly damaged Bhurunchuli Village. The community was engaged from start to finish. They were provided with the raw materials to make bricks to build their own homes.
While the homes were being rebuilt, they decided to build a community based Pandhaero (bath house) so the village women would have access to water for cooking, cleaning, health and sanitation.
Currently, it takes all day for Bhurunchuli village women to wash clothes because they share a watering hole with three villages. One woman says she wakes up at 3 a.m. every morning to avoid the long lines for water. Another woman told me she’s looking forward to the Pandhaero because she’ll no longer have to walk and wait in line to get water twice a day.
Access to water plays an essential role in the lives of women in developing countries. When women don’t have to travel long distances to clean water sources, they have more time to financially support their families and seek educational opportunities. They can work in the fields, make bricks, and create candies and pickles from fruit grown on trees to sell in the market.
Bhuruchuli Village School Sanitation Facility
Once a girl reaches puberty it’s difficult to stay in school. They face stigmas, seclusion, and no access to private toilets and water. In Nepal, 30 percent of girls report missing school during their periods.
After the earthquake, most children suffered emotionally. They didn’t have access to mental health professionals and they struggled to return to school.
Coca Cola and creasion decided it was important to motivate the 325 children and 20 teachers at the Shree Bhimsen Secondary School to return.
While I was there, the foundation was laid for the school’s first private bathrooms for boys and girls with hand basins. Not only will this provide health and sanitation for the students, it will motivate them to return to school. This will have a lasting impact for girls and young women.
If you get girls and young women early and educate and empower them, you change a nation. – Dr. Ngozi, former managing director of the World Bank
Coca Cola and PET Waste
In Nepal, Coca-Cola has committed financially to rebuilding and economically empowering women. It has some work to do with its bottling plant and PET waste. Currently, Coca Cola is at 16% water replenishment, however, it’s on track to be at 100% by 2020.
Currently Coca Cola supports the Himalayan Climate Initiative, Friends of the City, to help waste workers get a fair price for PET bottles, making it more profitable and respectable. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that its product contributes to Nepal’s growing PET waste. Coca-Cola’s Nepali team continues to work with NGOs and government leaders to affect policies about waste and recycling.
Coca-Cola plans to replenish the water it uses in Nepal through comprehensive wastewater treatment at its facilities (about half of the water use) and then through rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge to replenish the water used in its product in Nepal.
On Aug. 29, 2016, Coca-Cola announced they’ve met their goal to replenish the equivalent amount of water used in their global sales volume back to nature and communities. Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO, TheCoca-Cola Company said “We are keenly aware that our water stewardship work is unfinished and we remain focused on exploring next steps to advance our water programs and performance.”
While each plant may not replenish all water to its direct source, Coca-Cola requires all plants work to ensure they do not negatively impact water sources and work with the community on longer term solutions.
Large companies aren’t perfect, but I believe we should recognize positive corporate-community partnerships when we see them. During my visit to Nepal, it was clear Coca Cola is leading corporate responsibility and sustainability with its rebuilding efforts and its 5by20 initiative.
Coca Cola has a goal to economically empower 5 million women across their value chain by 2020 in developing countries. One of the simple ways it’s able to do this is to provide women access to water and private sanitation facilities for girls in schools.
Large companies aren’t perfect, but I believe we should recognize positive corporate-community partnerships when we see them. What do you think The Coca Cola Company has done well? How could it improve?