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Last Updated: Feb 19, 2013 - 1:22:36 AM
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AGU: Small clique of nations found to dominate global trading web of food, water

Mar 22, 2012 - 4:00:00 AM
The network itself is extremely dynamic, there are very few permanent links, Carr said.

[RxPG] WASHINGTON - It's not easy, or economically feasible, to ship freshwater across the globe. But when scientists use food as a proxy for that water - taking into account how much crops are irrigated and livestock are fed - they can get a glimpse of the flow of freshwater between countries. When one research group studied this virtual water network, they found that the interconnectedness between countries has almost doubled over the last two decades - potentially lending some resiliency to the water trade. Still, ahandful of nations control a majority of the freshwater flow, and some regions, including much of Africa, are left out of the trading loop.

In general, we have more trade going on, and more and more countries are now connected, said Joel Carr, an ecohydrologist with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and one of the authors of the new study. But these increases in trade and connections are not equally spread among countries.

Food production is one of the primary uses of fresh water, and as countries grow in population, they need more food, and therefore more water, to support their residents. If they don't have the water to grow crops or raise livestock but have money to spend, countries can import food - essentially importing water. The virtual water network is a way to look at the global balance of this freshwater trade, Carr said.

Carr and his colleagues studied the changes in the network - variations in how much virtual water (i.e. food) was being traded, which countries were trading, etc. - between 1986 and 2008. In that first year, there were 205 countries trading with each other, with about 8,200 trade links between them. In 2008, the number of countries trading virtual water had increased to 232, and the number of links had almostdoubled to about 15,800 links.

While part of that increase was due to geopolitical factors, such as the U.S.S.R. breaking up into more than a dozen new countries that joined in the network, it is mostly due to the boost fueled by globalization in the number of trading partners countries tend to have, Carr said. Still, countries in Africa have not experienced the same growth in interconnectedness other regions have. And links come and go betweencountries as they pick up or drop trading partners, he added.

The network itself is extremely dynamic, there are very few permanent links, Carr said.

The research is published today in

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