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China’s water footprint by province, and inter-provincial transfer of virtual water

Chen, Weiming, Wu, Sanmang, Lei, Yalin, Li, Shantong
Ecological indicators 2017 v.74 pp. 321-333
coasts, exports, industry, models, sustainable development, virtual water, water distribution, water shortages, water use efficiency, China
Water shortages and the uneven distribution of water resources restrict China’s sustainable development. The concepts of virtual water and water footprints provide a new approach to alleviate regional shortages of Chinese water resources by the inter-provincial allocation of commercial water resources. In this study, an interregional input-output model was applied to quantitatively estimate the water footprint of each province in China and to quantify the inter-provincial transfer of virtual water. The results indicated that there was considerable diversity in the water footprints of the various provinces. Provinces with larger populations and greater GDP had larger water footprints, and developed regions had higher proportions of external water footprints. From the perspective of final demand, local consumption was the main factor driving the water footprints of these provinces. From the perspective of sectoral structure, the agricultural water footprint had a larger proportion in these provinces. The transfer of virtual water in China did not occur from regions with abundant water resources to those suffering from water shortages, but it generally occurred from west to east, from inland to coastal areas, and from underdeveloped to developed regions. Many water-deficient regions also had large net virtual water exports. Water shortages in China will be alleviated by the enhancement of industrial water-use efficiency in water-deficient regions, the transfer of water-intensive industries to regions with abundant water resources, and the development of tertiary industries with low water consumption.