Virtual Water Scarcity Risk to the Global Trade System

Shen Qu, Sai Liang, Megan Konar, Zeqi Zhu, Anthony S.F. Chiu, Xiaoping Jia, Ming Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Local water scarcity risk (LWSR, meaning potential economic output losses in water-using sectors due to physical water scarcity) can be transmitted to downstream economies through the globalized supply chains. To understand the vulnerability of the global economy to water scarcity, we examine the impacts of local water scarcity risk on the global trade system from 1995 to 2009. We observe increasingly intensified geographical separation between physical water scarcity and production losses due to water scarcity. We identify top nation-sectors in virtual water scarcity risk (VWSR) exports (indicating local water scarcity risk in each nation transmitted to foreign nations through its exports), including agriculture and utilities in major economies such as China, India, Spain, France, and Turkey. These nation-sectors are critical to the resilience of the global economy to water scarcity. We also identify top nation-sectors in virtual water scarcity risk imports (indicating each nation's vulnerability to foreign water scarcity risk through the global trade system), highlighting their vulnerability to distant water scarcity. Our findings reveal the need for nations to collaboratively manage and conserve water resources, and lay the foundation for firms in high VWSR-importing sectors to develop strategies to mitigate such risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)673-683
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 16 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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