World Water Day: 2010

March 22nd is World Water Day. Here are just a handful of stats out of the UN report World Water Day 2010: Clean Water for a Healthy World, “Water quality facts and statistics”:

  • Worldwide, infectious diseases such as waterborne diseases are the number one killer of children under five years old. More people die from unsafe water annually than from all forms of violence, including war. (WHO 2002)
  • Unsafe water causes 4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year, and results in 2.2 million deaths, mostly of children under five. This means that 15% of child deaths each year are attributable to diarrhoea – a child dying every 15 seconds. In India alone, the single largest cause of ill health and death among children is diarrhoea, which kills nearly half a million children each year. (WHO and UNICEF 2000)
  • Freshwater species have faced an estimated extinction rate five times greater than that of terrestrial species. (Ricciardi and Rasmussen 1999)
  • Point-of- use drinking water treatment through chlorine and safe storage of water could result in 122.2 million avoided DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years, a measure of morbidity), at a total cost of US$ 11.4 billion. (UN WWAP 2003)
  • 70% of untreated industrial wastes in developing countries are disposed into water where they contaminate existing water supplies. (UN-Water 2009)

For more stats and facts, and to download the full report click here.

Here is a video form charity: water, “a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects” on their campaign for Haiti.  

Unshaken – charity: water’s campaign for Haiti from charity: water on Vimeo.

Within the context of responsible fashion design, water consumption, pollution and contamination are endemic within the industry, make no mistake.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has done the math on cotton and water:

10,000-17,000 litres of water = 1 kg of cotton lint

6 pints of water = 1cotton bud

**This amount seems even more staggering when we consider that the cotton crop is only grown on 2.4% of the world’s arable land (EJF).**

Global cotton consumption has been estimated to be responsible for 2.6 per cent of the global water use, however, much of the impact is not felt in the country where the cotton is consumed, but where it has been produced. As a global average, 44 per cent of the water use for cotton growth and processing is not for serving the domestic market but for export.

As a result it has been estimated that nearly half of the water problems in the world related to cotton growth and processing can be attributed to foreign demand for cotton products. In this respect, it has been calculated that 84% of EU’s cotton-related water footprint lies outside the EU, with major impacts particularly in India and Uzbekistan.

Cotton production has a high impact on freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity through activities such as excessive water withdrawal for irrigation, runoff from fields, drainage, pesticide application, dam construction and land reclamation. The activities result in a range of impacts from salinisation, pollution to loss of soil and biodiversity.

The issue of bottled water is yet another side of the story. The Story of Stuff has launched a new campaign, and added a new video to the popular Story of Stuff series “The Story of Bottled Water: How “manufactured demand” pushes what we don’t need and destroys what we need most”. Click here for more information.

UN Water has a TON of interactive campaign materials available online, so be sure to check them out and help spread the word and get involved.

To learn more about the potential social and environmental impacts of cotton in this context, check out the SA Fibre Analysis.

Mary Hanlon

Mary is the founder, editor and lead contributor at Social Alterations. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, where she researches responsible fashion and transnational labour rights activism in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

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