The Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) researchers invented a way for better water management policies and solving the issue of water scarcity in India through a process called ‘Virtual Water Flow’.
Virtual Water (VW) is the water involved in the production and trade of food and non-food commodities and services. It is that ‘invisible’ water that has been consumed throughout the lifecycle of the product or service.
For the study, the researches used ecological economics to study the socio-political factors governing the ‘Virtual Water Flow’. The concept of VW was first conceived in the 1990s to understand how water-stressed countries could provide people with essential items such as water-intensive products like food, clothing, and shelter. For example, a country with limited water resources would rather import water-intensive cotton than use their water in cultivating it.
The research was conducted by Dr Anamika Barua, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT Guwahati, along with scientists from the University of Zaragoza, Spain. The results of research have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal of Water Resources Research, and Journal of Water.
Explaining the research, Dr Barua said, “Virtual water flows assessment is aimed to induce sustainable use that can lead to water security.”
The study addresses the science-policy gap on water scarcity by first analysing the water flows hidden in agriculture products moving between the various states of India. It is then linked to the regional water scarcity situation and some existing elements of water policy to understand the gaps in knowledge and governance to mitigate water scarcity in the country.
The team found that some VW flows between states are unsustainable as water through agricultural products flows from highly water-scarce states in north to other highly water-scarce states in west and south. Such unsustainable flows are driven by a larger population and by arable land. In contrast, sustainable flows, that is, from low to high water scarcity zones can help combat water scarcity.
In states with chronic water scarcity, planning and implementation of sustainable agriculture are crucial for achieving water and food security, as per the study. It also found that the pressure on the freshwater resources in water‐parched states can be reduced by diversifying the production areas through the use of VW flows analysis to produce agro‐climatically suitable food grains.