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Uzbekistan Cotton Industry

Uzbekistan Cotton Industry

2009/10/27

Environmental Justice Foundation: White Gold - the true cost of cotton)

Uzbekistan is the second largest exporter of cotton in the world, and one third of the population is forced to work for government's billion-dollar cotton industry. However, there is an environmental catastrophe behind it.

Due to under investment and shortage of agricultural machinery, 90% of cotton harvest is gathered by hand, often by children. Schools are closed across the country as hundreds of thousands of children from the age of seven are taken by their teachers to work long days in the cotton fields. Children are given no protective gear of any kind. They are picking cotton in bare hands usually in torn clothing. Sometimes nothing more than slippers and sandals on their feet. They just keep working to reach expected daily quota. 

And there is no drinking water, so they resort to drink right out of irrigation canals which carries all kinds of risks for infections and diseases.

Also, teachers, doctors and factory workers are forced to leave their jobs to work in cotton fields with no additional compensation. Some risk crossing the border as they can't feed their families with the salary they get at home.

Moreover, cotton production has eradicated the Aral Sea. This is primarily because of irrigation. Since the Soviet times water was taken from rivers that fed the Aral Sea to transform vast areas into cotton fields. However, up to 60% of diverted water is lost through evaporation and leakage, and never reaches the crops. Former sea bed is contaminated with salt and pesticide residues. And wind storm spread this toxic dust causing high rates of tuberculosis and cancer.

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