The water in your clothes

Three years ago, it was decided that the whole world would work together towards Agenda 2030. A global agenda that includes 17 sustainability goals, the sixth of which is to ensure sustainable water use and sanitation for all. During Almedalen Week, many actors gather to discuss water.

Water is a local asset, but if you look up a newspaper wherever you are in the world, there are headlines about water shortages, says Torgny Holmgren, CEO of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), in a seminar called Water from a Global and Local perspective.

Meeting the UN's sustainability goal six, on clean water and sanitation for all, is a huge project. Today, 844 million people lack basic access to water (tap adjacent to housing). 2.1 billion do not have access to safely managed water and 4,5 billion do not have access to safe sanitation.

Recently released UN Water Task Force's synthesis report on how the work on goal six is ​​progressing. It reads that if natural environments continue to degrade and the unsustainable pressure on water resources continues, we will probably risk: 45 percent of global GDP and 40 percent of global grain production, and put 52 percent of the world population at risk.

The report also emphasizes that if development continues in the same direction, even poor and marginalized people risk being disproportionately affected. Jenny Grönwall, Adviser on Water Policy and Rights at SIWI, has researched the effects of the textile industry on water in Tirupur, India. From this area comes a large part of the world's tricot material and that production requires a lot of water, water which is then not often purified properly before it is released again. So much water is consumed that it has affected local food security as many farmers can no longer irrigate their fields. The people in the area must therefore apply to the textile industry for their livelihood and a spiral is created where the industry has made itself indispensable to the local economy, which has made people not protest too loudly against the industry's water use. She says that more and more people have to buy drinking water.

During the drought periods, it becomes very expensive and the cost exceeds the "affordability norm", meaning that people spend more than 3-4 percent of their disposable income on water, says Grönwall.

According to Marianne Kjellén, senior advisor in water issues for UNDP and staff in the "task force" who produced the synthesis report on the fulfillment of goal 6, the most important result they have come to the realization is that decisions made across many different sectors affect the ability to meet goals six. As the example from the textile industry in Tirupur shows, it is not just a matter of getting water authorities to lay new pipes and drill new wells to secure the water supply. It is about getting all sectors of society to take action not to waste water, and to avoid actions that pollute it. In fact, almost 90 percent of the world's water consumption is not used in households but by agriculture and industry. In order to meet goal six, goal twelve, on sustainable consumption and production, must also be met.

We have a strong focus in development aid and in international development cooperation, which is about a holistic approach that addresses those issues in the way of building capacity in the long term, Eva Svedling, newly appointed State Secretary to Isabella Lövin, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, explains this spring. video interview, on the question of how Swedish development assistance works across several sectors with the water issue.

During 2014-2016, many water-related projects funded by Sida were ongoing. Sustainable Water Resources Management (SWAR) was a project in Delhi that wanted to inspire a more sustainable water use in the textile industry. It was carried out by SIWI together with the clothing companies Indiska, KappAhl and Lindex, and was part-financed by the development assistance authority. The project succeeded in reducing water consumption for the parties involved by 6,6 percent in one year. It may seem small, but corresponded to 84,5 million liters and also the consumption of electricity, fuel and chemicals decreased. Jenny Grönwall thinks that this is a very good example of how development aid can be used to drive development towards a more sustainable water use, precisely this type of increase in competence and technical capacity, but emphasizes that companies must also take greater responsibility.

But it must be scaled up, purchasing companies must be willing to drive this development themselves. An additional amount of money is needed up and back in the supply chain, she explains.

One way to ensure that this is done is by making the UN's guiding principles for human rights and entrepreneurship precisely guiding, as this would make it mandatory for companies to map their stages of production, Grönwall believes. To anchor the principles more clearly is something the State Treasury has already proposed to the Government in a report submitted last year. But the Government has not yet responded to this. While working conditions in the textile industry are something that has come under the spotlight in recent years, the same industry's impact on water has not done so. Poor working conditions are easy to show visually, an image can go viral on social media very quickly, but water shortages can not be documented in a photograph in the same way, Grönwall explains.

Fresh water is a local resource, but the shortage is global. In order to implement the UN's sustainability goal number six, we need to work harder to make consumers aware of the effects of industries on the water, but it must also stop being an issue just for aid. We at the consumer level, politicians and decision-makers, nationally and globally, must make decisions that enable higher environmental requirements to be achieved, concludes Jenny Grönwall.

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