Trend: The Fight for Water Accelerates



Water is essential. Without it, we cannot survive. Unfortunately, due to a range of factors including high demand, poor wastewater management and a lack of action from governments, many parts of the world are running out of clean water.

As human populations have grown and lifestyles have changed, our thirst for water has increased. By using new hydrological models, the World Resources Institute found that water withdrawals globally have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand. Water usage stretches far beyond what the average consumer sees and some industries are heavy consumers of this precious resource.

High Water Consumption Sectors

Fruit and vegetable growing consumes a huge amount of water and certain crops such as wheat, corn, rice and sugarcane require a particularly high quantity of water. The beverage industry is also a big water consumer. In addition to the water required in the product itself, there is the water that goes into growing popular beverage products such as barley, sugar, coffee, fruit, etc. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes 75 litres to produce a pint of beer and 140 litres for a cup of coffee.

The textile industry also comes vast quantities of water. Cotton is well-known as a high water consumption crop. Textile Today claims that, “It takes about 20,000 liters of water to produce a cotton T-shirt and jeans.”

On top of that, fabric dying uses huge amounts of water and, when not appropriately treated,  renders it polluted and unusable afterwards. By employing industrial best practices, such as those explained in amfori BEPI’s Supply Chain Chemical Management Module, businesses can mitigate these negative effects. This is desperately needed as, according to a World Bank report in 2019, “Some studies have shown that the textile industry is responsible for about one-fifth of global water pollution.”

According to the Indian Textile Journal, it is estimated that dying textiles consumes 2.4 trillion gallons (above 9 trillion litres) of water every year.

Water Issues Worldwide

While the most affected regions are the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, water scarcity is an issue around the world. Regions of China, Europe, North America (particularly the western regions of the USA and Mexico) are also facing a lack of clean water.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), 17 countries, home to 25% of the global population, face ‘extremely high’ levels of baseline water stress. This means that irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year (considering both surface and groundwater). The next 44 countries, accounting for 33% of the world population, suffer from ‘high’ levels of stress (over 40% of available water is withdrawn every year).

Our Last Chance to Achieve the SDGs

As we enter the last decade to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we can see that water issues have direct impacts on multiple SDGs.

Water is pivotal for the 2030 sustainable development agenda. Water scarcity and quality issues impact not only SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation) but also SDG2 (Zero hunger), SDG9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG11 (Sustainable cities and communities), SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production), SDG13 (Climate action) and SDG14 (Life below water).

What Does this Mean for amfori Members?

All industrial sectors have an impact on water availability and quality, but two sectors well represented within amfori membership need to pay a specific attention to these challenges:

  • Members whose activities include the production, distribution or retail of food and beverages should monitor water risk, especially regarding water use and its impact on water scarcity
  • Members who work in the textile or apparel sector should also be mindful of water usage in their supply chain, with an additional focus on water quality and proper wastewater disposal

More generally, water efficiency and water quality are aligned with amfori’s mission to help organisations use natural resources responsibly.

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