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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 18, issue 2 | Copyright

Special issue: Predictions under change: water, earth, and biota in the anthropocene...

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 447-461, 2014
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-18-447-2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 05 Feb 2014

Research article | 05 Feb 2014

Climate-driven interannual variability of water scarcity in food production potential: a global analysis

M. Kummu1, D. Gerten2, J. Heinke2, M. Konzmann2, and O. Varis1 M. Kummu et al.
  • 1Water & Development Research Group (WDRG), Aalto University, Espoo, Finland
  • 2Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Potsdam, Germany

Abstract. Interannual climatic and hydrologic variability has been substantial during the past decades in many regions. While climate variability and its impacts on precipitation and soil moisture have been studied intensively, less is known on subsequent implications for global food production. In this paper we quantify effects of hydroclimatic variability on global "green" and "blue" water availability and demand in global agriculture, and thus complement former studies that have focused merely on long-term averages. Moreover, we assess some options to overcome chronic or sporadic water scarcity. The analysis is based on historical climate forcing data sets over the period 1977–2006, while demography, diet composition and land use are fixed to reference conditions (year 2000). In doing so, we isolate the effect of interannual hydroclimatic variability from other factors that drive food production. We analyse the potential of food production units (FPUs) to produce a reference diet for their inhabitants (3000 kcal cap−1 day−1, with 80% vegetal food and 20% animal products). We applied the LPJmL vegetation and hydrology model to calculate the variation in green-blue water availability and the water requirements to produce that very diet. An FPU was considered water scarce if its water availability was not sufficient to produce the diet (i.e. assuming food self-sufficiency to estimate dependency on trade from elsewhere). We found that 24% of the world's population lives in chronically water-scarce FPUs (i.e. water is scarce every year), while an additional 19% live under occasional water scarcity (water is scarce in some years). Among these 2.6 billion people altogether, 55% would have to rely on international trade to reach the reference diet, while for 24% domestic trade would be enough. For the remaining 21% of the population exposed to some degree of water scarcity, local food storage and/or intermittent trade would be enough to secure the reference diet over the occasional dry years.

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