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1 Padoua University Italy, 2 Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale Lausanne Switzerland, 3 University of Virginia, USA Discussion Paper 1315
This article presents a model for estimating the maximum sustainable population of each country around the world based on their available water resources (i.e. the nations’ carrying capacity), accounting for both local and “virtual” water resources. The results suggest the existence of a serious global water imbalance. ability to meet mankind’s most basic needs, including food security. In fact, most of the water we use is to produce the food we eat.1 By relying on food imports from other nations,2 several countries already indirectly consume more freshwater resources than they have access to within their boundaries. Thus, the trade of commodities is associated with a
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corresponding to the amount of water used for their production.3 Studies on the virtual water trade network4 stress how effective water management needs to account for global – and not only for local – water budgets, as well as to include the effect of trade on the virtual water balance.2
Keywords: virtual water, water resources, water imbalance, carrying capacity, sustainable population
Suweis and colleagues5 recently took a step in The super-exponential growth of the human population is critically testing the Earth’s
Suggested Citation: Suweis, S., Rinaldo, A., Maritan, A., & D’Odorico, P. 2013, ‘Using water footprints to estimate nations’ carrying capacities and demographic sustainability’, GWF Discussion Paper 1315, Global Water Forum, Canberra, Australia. Available online at: http://www.globalwaterforum.org/2013/04/09/using-‐water-‐footprints-‐to-‐estimate-‐nations-‐carrying-‐capacities-‐and-‐demographic-‐ sustainability/
this direction by estimating the maximum
e. corresponds to a particular level of water consumption ‹Wc› which typically varies depending on the type of diet. if the actual population is less than KV but larger than Kloc. you also have to consider the net virtual water import WFtrade. The blue squares represent the net exporter nations. the sum of the water footprints of all imports minus the footprints of all exports. The weights of the links are color-coded by the grayscaling in the edge’s colours (black links carry the highest volumes).Using water footprints to estimate nations’ carrying capacities and demographic sustainability sustainable population of each country around the world based on their available water resources (i. a country with a given population. the nations’ carrying capacity). i. and therefore. To take into account the entire water budget of a country. the country is virtual water dependent. Each inhabitant consumes a given amount food which It is important to note that Kloc is the maximum population that is sustainable on the basis of the locally available freshwater resources.e. Consider. KV = (WFloc +WFtrade)/‹Wc›. and accounting for both local and “virtual” water resources..e. and social conditions. Their results highlight the existence of a serious global water imbalance. where WFloc is the sum of the water footprints2 of all food commodities that can be produced in that nation. .e. Using this approach. its population is sustained by importing food from other countries. estimated the number of people that can be sustained by each country’s local and virtual water supplies. if the actual population of a country is less than Kloc. people rely on local water resources and the local carrying capacity can be calculated as Kloc = WFloc/‹Wc›. The carrying capacities in the study were estimated on the basis of water footprint calculations. On the other hand. while the red ones are the net importers. Suweis et al. i. for example. or the virtual carrying capacity. the locally available freshwater resources can sustain more people than are present. i. Figure 1. age. The backbone of the global virtual water trade network. the country is “water rich”. In the absence of trade. cultural.
To test this hypothesis. Based on these model simulations. the world’s population would have to start decreasing around the half of this century. and thereby causing the emergence of water limitations in trade dependent countries. the efficiency of agricultural unsustainability of the food trade system. Conversely. Finally. they found that in water rich countries the population grows according to a logistic law in line with the local carrying capacity Kloc . Suweis et al. These results highlight a serious global water imbalance and point to the long-term growth on the same pool of resources. in order to sustain the current rate of demographic growth. Both water-rich and trade dependent populations are relying for their long-term production needs to increase continuously . studied global population dynamics using the logistic model for each nation and accounting for the coupling existing among nations through the virtual water trade network. as if there was no (virtual) water export. Suweis et al. in agreement with other studies7. they found that the real network topology appears to be the least efficient in terms of sustaining large populations over long times. As a consequence it is expected that at some point the volume of virtual water traded in the global market will have to decrease so that water rich nations hold larger amounts of local freshwater resources to meet their own demand leading to a reduction of their exports. The authors also investigated the impact of the topology of the virtual water trade network on the long-term sustainability of the world population. By expressing population growth using a classic model known as a logistic equation6.Using water footprints to estimate nations’ carrying capacities and demographic sustainability Using these quantitative estimates of the carrying capacities of each country based on available local and virtual water resources.in these countries population grows by relying on the local water resources. Using three popular random graphs and a graph that resembles the existing global virtual water network. population dynamics in water poor countries exhibit a logistic growth in line with virtual carrying capacity KV . these trade dependent populations will have to decrease. To do this they used local carrying capacities for water rich nations and virtual carrying capacities for trade dependent countries. also investigated some potential strategies to mitigate this alarming scenario. They concluded that. Unless new freshwater resources become available or investments in more waterefficient agriculture are made. they indeed found that.their demographic growth strongly relies on the importation of virtual water. Suweis et al. looked at the relationship of demographic growth to water availability.
whereby water rich countries devote a relatively small fraction of their local variety of assumptions on different socioeconomic scenarios. S. S..Using water footprints to estimate nations’ carrying capacities and demographic sustainability through technological innovation. Wiley Blackwell. A.A. (2013). Virtual water: a strategic resources. A positive impact on the global water balance could also be obtained through a cooperative “contract” between water rich and trade dependent nations. Rinaldo A. and H. economic and financial indices. 2. stochastic modeling of natural phenomena. (1998). hydrogeomorphology. Ground Water. L10403 5. . His research is at the interface of ecology. London. hydrology and complex systems under a theoretical framework provided by statistical mechanics. Rockstrom. Water-controlled wealth of nations PNAS early edition. doi:10. M. Amos Maritan is professor of Statistical Physics at the University of Padua. 1. His main research interests are in the statistical mechanics of out-of-equilibrium systems. Malden. Sornette D (2001) Finite-time singularity in the dynamics of the world population. (2011). Structure and controls of the global virtual water trade network. Chapagain (2008). Global solutions to the regional deficits. and the director of the Laboratory of Ecohydrology at the EPFL. Johansen A. J. The full version of the article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and can be found here... Lett. About the author(s) Samir Suweis completed his Ph.. with interdisciplinary applications ranging from ecology to environmental science.. Konar M.1222452110 6. Hoekstra. Even though these model-based predictions of the future world population are based on a References management strategies. Kingsland S (1982) The refractory model: the logistic curve and the history of population ecology. Italy and director of the LIPh laboratory. J.D. Falkenmark. in Environmental Engineering at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale Lausanne). Hanasaki N. Rinaldo.. Mass. 36: 545–546. Globalization of Water. and Rodriguez-Iturbe I. and networks in nature. J.1073/pnas. 38. Andrea Rinaldo is professor of Hydrology and Water Resources. ecohydrology.. Res. Q Rev Biol 57:29-52 7. climatology and sustainability science. Geophys. and is currently a post-doc in the LIPh laboratory at the Physics Department of the Padoua. Maritan. His research focuses on a wide range of topics including transport phenomena in the hydrological cycle. Savenjie (2004). His research focuses on the understanding and modeling of hydrological processes and their interaction with ecological and land surface processes. Suweis. the results of this study highlight the important role that the global virtual water balance is expected to play on demographic growth in the near future. Balancing Water for Humans and Nature. and D’Odorico P. Earthscan. A. Physica A 294:465-502. Paolo D’Odorico is professor at the University of Virginia in the Department of Environmental Sciences. 4. 3. The constraints on growth estimated by the model suggest that it is important the global allocation accounted of for freshwater in future resources policies is and resources to export to trade dependent nations. Suweis. Allan. Dalin C. University (Italy). and A.. A.
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