Heindriken Margarete Dahlmann, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Telecoupled water flows – A multi-scalar analysis of the effects of food production crises on water resources and their management

The sustainable and equitable management of the world’s unequally distributed water resources represents one of the major challenges in the coming decades. Global water resources are of critical importance to ensure both water and food security for humanity as well as ecosystem health.

However, pressures on water resources increase due to a rapidly expanding population, rising living standards, unsustainable consumption patterns as well as climate change impacts that will intensify already existing competing demands and inequalities. Further, sustainable water management is increasingly challenged by the growing interconnectedness of global systems. Distant human-nature interactions – telecouplings – create a situation where water resources cannot be considered entirely local resources anymore but have global scope. One of the major water-related telecouplings is the trade of agricultural products which secures food availability of many regions worldwide. By importing agricultural products, regions also import the water embedded in the production process which is called virtual water. While virtual water trade enables many water-scarce countries to ensure food security, it also increases their dependence on external water resources, thereby sharply enhancing their vulnerability towards food production crises.

The proposed dissertation aims to investigate the effects of food production crises due to agricultural water scarcity on local water resource use and management in agricultural producing regions as well as on external water resources in importing regions. In a first step, a global water scarcity hotspot analysis illustrating the relationship between virtual water trade and water scarcity will be conducted by analyzing climate impact data and global trade structures. Second, the socio-hydrological effects of food production crises in form of impacts and adaptation options in export and import regions will be analyzed through a qualitative literature review as well as expert interviews. Finally, the consequences of a food production crisis in two telecoupled export and import case study regions will be explored.

By building on a mixed-method approach, the dissertation presents a major methodological innovation addressing insights from multiple perspectives at different spatial scales on telecoupled water risks.