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Coping with water scarcity in a globalized world

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - CWASI (Coping with water scarcity in a globalized world)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2019-12-31

In the Anthropocene, the health of us humans is more closely linked than ever to the health of our planet. Food and water are paradigmatic examples of the close connection between the mankind and the planet health. While it obvious that suitable food and water quantity and quality are necessary to human health, we are hardly aware of the effects of food production and water globalization on the environment and, conversely, of the effects of hydroclimatic variability on water and food security. To address this crucial point, we have set the following research questions: What are the global dynamics of water scarcity and how do these depend on the food trade? What drives the food trade and virtual water exchanges? How do local crises propagate into the global system? What are the future scenarios of food production, and how will this impact water resources? Are we heading toward a global water and food crisis? What actions should we take to delay or avoid the crisis?
We have collected from public databases and validated billions of data concerning with food production, consumption and international trade (300 products, 30 years of coverage), with water use in agriculture, with global climatic and economic variables, etc. A set of advanced statistical and stochastic methods, hydrological and environmental-impact models, econometric and complex-network tools have been developed to cope with the challenge of understanding the intertwined water-food dynamics. We have published 14 papers in top-ranked scientific journals and books, and researchers from our group have given 11 oral and poster presentations at international scientific conferences to present the project outcomes. Our dissemination efforts have involved more than 10.000 people in 10 national and international-scale events. We have shown that globalization of water is already a reality; that county’s population, economic power, and availability of agricultural land are the main drivers of the food trade; that the food stocks are not decreasing in time, as commonly believed, but they are subject to wide stochastic fluctuations; and we have shown that the vulnerability of the global system to the propagation of local crises has increased over time.
We have adopted an innovative, evidence- and data-based approach to address the ambitious research goals of the project. By joining forces of engineers, economists, and physicists, we are contributing to place the challenges of the water-food nexus in a quantitative framework. We have therefore set the bases for addressing, in the second part of the project, the remaining project objectives: to quantify the impact on fluvial systems of water withdrawals due to food production; to define the future scenarios of human use of water resources; to predict the future evolution of the food trade network; to understand the resistance and resilience of the future system to local and global crises; and to qualify the actions one should take to minimize the effect of the crisis.