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Water Issues Could Curb Textile Export Growth in Bangladesh

The textile sector is one of the world’s biggest pollutants, and the effect it’s having on Bangladesh’s water sources could ultimately prove damaging to the country’s textile export growth.

H&M, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has been working to uncover the challenges and opportunities surrounding water governance in Bangladesh and found that the gap between policy and implementation in the country could affect economic growth. Bangladesh is a “key” sourcing country for H&M and one of the world’s largest apparel producers.

“Bangladesh is a major producer of clothing for EU and U.S. markets, and the apparel sector is vital for the Bangladesh economy,” the report noted. “Currently, textile and leather processing is having significant negative impacts on water sources, leading to environmental degradation and potential health problems for people.”

The biggest problem with water in Bangladesh is people’s access to it and how clean it is when they can get their hands on it. Farming irrigation supply and costs, and groundwater depletion are also areas of concern.

“These risks could potentially create ‘crunch points’ in groundwater levels, creating uncertain outcomes and putting nationwide farm level profits and industrial production in Dhaka at risk,” according to the report.

If the rate of depletion keeps up, ground water could reach low enough levels by 2020 that household hand pumps would stop working and costs for extraction from tube wells would increase. Textile production sites could even run out of useable water.

“This could create higher infrastructure and running costs for sites dependent on large quantities of water, for example dyeing mills,” the report noted.

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By 2030, Dhaka may need 250 percent more water than it has now.

If supply challenges and water pollution continue, Bangladesh might have to spend $700 million in infrastructure to tap surface water resources. Economic losses—factoring in lost productivity due to worker illness, water and sanitation access time and water treatment costs, among other things—could be close to $7 billion per year by 2030.

To get Bangladesh back on track, H&M and WWF, recommend an Improved Water Governance plan. Things like incentives for high value, lower water usage crops, changes in irrigation incentives and subsidies to reduce water losses and tighter controls on industry pollution and water use could help conditions.

H&M and WWF will release another report looking at likely economic outcomes from varying water governance scenarios in April this year.