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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 13. May purchasing lots of jeans cause wars?

by Eco Generation | 02-09-2016 08:40 Comments 0 recommendations 0

20 Must Know Series-Title

13. May purchasing lots of jeans cause wars?
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1. Virtual water, hidden water in daily necessities

     You might have been surprised that a pair of jeans requires a whopping 11,000 L of water. 11,000 L is literally 11,000 1 L plastic bottles. With this amount of water, you can fill up 37 bathtubs, or 1 Ethiopian can live on it for 2 years. Your purchase of a pair of jeans consumes water that 1 Ethiopian can survive on for 2 years. But you had no idea when you bought them that this much water would be required, didn't you? How come this much water is required for a single pair of jeans? There are dozens of steps in the process of making jeans, which requires a lot of water. The jeans manufacturing process includes activities from cotton cultivation to spinning, dyeing, weaving, processing, cutting and sewing. While cultivating and dyeing cotton, a staggering amount water is consumed.

     Virtual water means invisible water that is necessary for the process of production, transport and consumption of products or services. The 11,000 L of water required for a pair of jeans is virtual water. Professor Tony Allan from King's College London introduced the virtual water concept, and it is an important measurement of actual water consumption. Considering all food and products consumed in Korea, on average, one Korean spends 4,463 L of virtual water a day, which makes Korea the 4th top country to import virtual water in the world.

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2. Our inconsiderate consumption could cause water disputes. 

     Why didn't Jenny like the jeans? Products such as jeans are not made domestically. Many products are made in overseas countries, especially developing countries with lower labor costs. According to UNESCO-IHE, the biggest problem of virtual water is that it can accelerate inequality in water use among nations.

     Our excessive consumption of water has made it difficult for children in other countries, especially developing countries, to get safe water. They can't even imagine having clean water that we usually take for granted, drinking unsafe and contaminated water without any hesitation. If you use water more carelessly, i.e., if you buy more and more jeans even though you already have enough, if you eat hamburgers every day, if you change your phone every year, the damage will directly go to those in developing nations. The more products requiring virtual water we buy, the worse water shortages in developing countries get. Higher water scarcity will result in wars.

     Have you heard of the Darfur Conflict in Sudan? The Darfur Conflict in 2003 was serious enough to be called the first war caused by climate change. The cause was obviously scarce water caused by climate change. People in Darfur mostly consist of Arab pastoralists and African farmers. Disputes between them started from the 1970s. As water shortages and soil erosion got worse and pastureland decreased, their conflicts became bigger. In the great drought in 1984, the farmers burned pastureland to prevent the Arab pastoralists' cattle from accessing their own farmland and got fertilizers for farming. Accordingly, the pastoralists launched a revolt against the farmers who burned off the last feed for their cattle. 

     Professor Harold Belcher, a German socio-psychologist, analyzed that the Darfur Civil War is not just simply ethnic conflicts but environmental conflicts caused by climate change. The conflict has left as many as 300,000 people dead and displaced another 2.7 million. In the end, south Sudan gained independence from Sudan and the dust settled for a while. 

     Moreover, Lake Chad in Africa, which used to be the largest lake in the world in the 1960s, has lost 90% of its water over the last 20 years due to temperature rises and careless use of surrounding groundwater, and is estimated to be depleted within the next 20 years. The rich pastureland around the lake has turned into a bleak desert, and is now dominated by a terrorist organization, Boko Haram. We need to remember that serious water shortages can produce the seeds of conflict.

3. What we should do.

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     What should we do? Should we not buy products requiring virtual water unconditionally? No. Every product involves virtual water. When it comes to daily necessities, we need to buy these items. We can't survive without clothes. However, we should stop wasting products entailing lots of virtual water. If you buy more jeans even though you already have enough clothes, it is a waste of too much water as a pair of jeans consumes 11,000 L of virtual water. Hopefully, you are wise enough to realize the joy of shopping is followed by the tears of the Earth.

[Learn More!]

Wasser (Wilhelm Sager, 2008)
This book analyzes causes and phenomena of water scarcity and suggests countermeasures.

Virtual Water (Tony Allan, 2012)
This book is written by Professor Tony Allan, who introduced the concept of virtual water.

The Water in the World (Yves Lacoste, 2011) 
This book suggests proper perspectives on water problems as global citizens.

Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


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