The water footprint of food aid

Nicole Jackson, Megan Konar, Arjen Y. Hoekstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food aid is a critical component of the global food system, particularly when emergency situations arise. For the first time, we evaluate the water footprint of food aid. To do this, we draw on food aid data from theWorld Food Programme and virtual water content estimates from WaterStat. We find that the total water footprint of food aid was 10 km3 in 2005, which represents approximately 0.5% of the water footprint of food trade and 2.0% of the water footprint of land grabbing (i.e., water appropriation associated with large agricultural land deals). The United States is by far the largest food aid donor and contributes 82% of the water footprint of food aid. The countries that receive the most water embodied in aid are Ethiopia, Sudan, North Korea, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Notably, we find that there is significant overlap between countries that receive food aid and those that have their land grabbed. Multivariate regression results indicate that donor water footprints are driven by political and environmental variables, whereas recipient water footprints are driven by land grabbing and food indicators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6435-6456
Number of pages22
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015


  • Food aid
  • Virtual water
  • Water footprint
  • Water grabbing
  • Water savings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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