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Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade

Dalin, CAC; Wada, Y; Kastner, T; Puma, MJ; (2017) Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade. Nature , 543 (7647) pp. 700-704. 10.1038/nature21403. Green open access

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Abstract

Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately eleven per cent of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India alone. Our quantification of groundwater depletion embedded in the world’s food trade is based on a combination of global, crop-specific estimates of non-renewable groundwater abstraction and international food trade data. A vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security. Some countries, such as the USA, Mexico, Iran and China, are particularly exposed to these risks because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers. Our results could help to improve the sustainability of global food production and groundwater resource management by identifying priority regions and agricultural products at risk as well as the end consumers of these products.

Type: Article
Title: Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/nature21403
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature21403
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1546903
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