Does globalization of water reduce societal resilience to drought?



[1] Most food production depends, directly or indirectly, on freshwater resources. In the absence of importation of food commodities, population growth is constrained by the availability of local resources—including water—as well as by cultural and health-related factors. The global trade of massive amounts of food makes societies less reliant on locally available water resources, thereby allowing some populations to exceed the limits posed by their local water budget. Thus, international trade implies a virtual transfer of water resources from areas of food production to importing regions. While it is recognized that in the short term this globalization of (virtual) water resources may prevent malnourishment, famine, and conflicts, its long-term effects on the coupled human-natural system remain poorly investigated. Here we develop a minimalist modeling framework to investigate the effect of the uncontrolled trade of food products on the resilience of human societies with respect to drought and famine. Our results suggest that in the long run the globalization of water resources reduces the societal resilience with respect to water limitations in that it leaves fewer options available to cope with exceptional droughts and crop failure.