COTTON AND WATER.
Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, taking about 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years. Consumption of cotton products represents 2.6% of the global water footprint of consumed goods and services. 80% of the total EU water footprint is located outside Europe in countries such as China, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In 2008, 2,890 billion litres of water was used in Pakistan to grow the cotton needed just to make products sold by the homestore Ikea – equivalent to the volume of drinking water consumed in Sweden over 176 years.
More than 70% of global cotton is produced using irrigation and 15-35% of all irrigation withdrawals are estimated to be unsustainable.
The environmental and social impacts of unsustainable cotton production are perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the demise of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. This inland sea has almost disappeared as a direct result of intense cotton production under the former Soviet Union and its decline is continuing today. Although this particular example is driven by a unique set of political and economic factors, the ever-growing demand for cotton globally could trigger future ecological crises, increased poverty, forced migration and violent conflict, both nationally and between nations.
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The demise of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. Above the Aral sea in 1989
Below the Aral Sea in 2009.