Common staples threatened by water scarcity

A new report has revealed that supplies of animal feed, rice, cotton, grapes and pistachios could be impacted in the near future as they come from regions facing water shortages.

Over a third of Europe’s water needs come from other parts of the world, due to imported crops.

“Right now it is more like an alert,” said Professor Bart van den Hurk, who co-ordinates the Horizon 2020-funded IMPREX project, a Europe-wide research effort which produced the report as part of its efforts to analyse the links between climate change and water.

He added: “The next step is really to look at climate change sentinels (indicators) in the areas of exposure … and see whether you can actually translate climate change effects in those areas to European sensitivities.”

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and droughts will rise over the coming years as man-made climate change takes hold.

Dr Ertug Ercin, the lead author of the report entitled Vulnerabilities of Europe’s economy to global water scarcity and drought, from the Water Footprint Network, a Dutch non-governmental organisation which is part of the IMPREX project, explained that the project worked out Europe’s water vulnerability by looking at trade flows into and out of Europe, and then examining the water situation in countries from where the food originates.

“We always look at the supply side of the water issue,” he said, “but looking from the demand perspective and understanding the issues from the demand perspective is not well understood.”

Analysing water demand is part of a broader effort by the IMPREX project to encourage public officials and businesses to take climate change forecasts into account when making decisions by predicting how global warming will lead to extreme weather in Europe.

Van den Hurk concluded: “I’m really on a mission to embed this physical climate science further down the chain.”

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