Cotton Production (per capita) & water consumption (2012)

Explore the map to learn about the worldwide annual cotton production and the related consumptive water use.

Total cotton productionSelect a year, use arrow keys or autoplay to cycle through years



Cotton uses a huge amount of water both to produce and process. It can take 2,700 litres to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. About 53 percent of the global cotton field is irrigated, producing 73 percent of the global cotton production (Soth, J., Grasser, C., and Salerno, R. (1999) ‘The impact of cotton on fresh water resources and ecosystems: A preliminary analysis’, WWF, Gland, Switzerland.). Irrigated cotton is mainly grown in the Mediterranean and other warm climatic regions like Egypt, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan, where freshwater is already in short supply.(A.K. Chapagain, A.Y. Hoekstra (2005) ‘Water footprint of cotton consumption’, UNESCO-IHE Delft, The Netherlands.)

Cotton production and processing are also a major source of pollution of fresh water. Globally, freshwater resources are becoming scarcer due to a growing population, increasing wealth and consumption and hence increasing water withdrawals for human use. The impact of consumption can be quantified with the concept of the “water footprint”, a concept introduced by Hoekstra and Hung (2002), and further elaborated by Chapagain and Hoekstra (2004). The water footprint of a nation has been defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the nation (Chapagain et al., 2006).

This visualization shows the world wide cotton production in relation to the consumptive water use. The water consumption can be divided into green water (water from rainwater stored in soil) and blue water (fresh water in lakes, rivers, aquifers). Blue water is stress-weighted because it is consumed at rates faster than it's short-term replacement and many cotton producing countries have limited blue water resources. This visualization allows you to compare this two types per country and in relative (per capita) and absolute values and shows you how much percent of the total renewable water resources per capita are withdrawn for cotton production.


screencast - Water footprint of cotton production from Susan Härtig on Vimeo.



The git repository for the project is The process book can also be found there.