a wastewater treatment plant of a tannery in Ethiopia

Making a case for ‘Accelerated Change’ in Leather Industry’s Water Consumption

By Aurelia P. Calabro and Zerfie Degefu

ADDIS ABABA – Everyone has a right to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. It is one of the basic human needs crucial for a healthy life. However, unless the water supply increases by four-fold in the coming years, billions of people will lack access to these basic services.

Water is also an essential resource for manufacturing industries. The average water consumption by industries is estimated at 22 percent of the global water use.

In 2009, European and North American industrial water use accounted for half of their total water use, whereas in developing nations industrial water use ranges from 4 to 12 percent of national water use.

As industrialization in developing nations increases, industrial water use will potentially increase, strongly increasing pressure on water resources.

In exacerbating high-water stress, the withdrawal of too much freshwater from natural sources compared to the freshwater available can have devastating consequences for the environment and can hinder, or even reverse, economic and social development.

According to the report of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the textile, semiconductor, and leather manufacturing industries consume the highest amount of water.

Industrial use of this important resource leads to the generation of large volumes of wastewater and associated discharges.

The case of the leather industry indicates that processing leather by conventional method consumes 50 metric cube of fresh water for processing a ton of hides and skins.

However, with the use of cleaner production technologies, developed countries like Germany have managed to reduce water consumption to 12 metric cube of fresh water per ton of hides and skins.

In recent years, significant recent advances in wastewater treatment for reuse have become much more cost-efficient. With the growing good practices and new-generation systems, these alternate sources now offer a clear competitive edge to water-intensive manufacturing operations.

In Ethiopia, there are 27 operating tanneries. Most of them rely on underground fresh water and use conventional leather processing technologies.

The industries need to devise a way to put in place sustainable management and use of water through recycling and reusing of wastewater as well as reduce consumption and devise a way to upgrade water efficient technologies.

In addition, the tanneries need to develop the capacity to measure and monitor the amount and quality of water they consume.

Reducing the amount of water used by industries in these ways lowers water withdrawals from local water sources.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-6) sets to substantially increase water use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity. However, an effort needs to be quadrupled to achieve this goal by 2030.

With this notion, this year’s World Water Day theme “Accelerated Change” highlights the urgency of taking swift and effective action to address the water challenges facing our world today.

The authors are Aurelia Patrizia Calabro, UNIDO Representative to Ethiopia, and Zerfie Degefu, UNIDO-LISEC Project, National Tannery Pollution Control Expert

Editor’s note: The article reflects the authors’ opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of EM News.