IIT Guwahati team paves the way for better water management policies in India through Virtual Water Analysis

Guwahati : Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) researchers have paved the way for better water management policies in India. Dr. Anamika Barua, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT Guwahati, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, used ecological economics to study the socio-political factors governing ‘Virtual Water Flow’, an emerging concept at the science-policy interface, with particular reference to India.


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.


The concept of VW was first conceived in the 1990s to understand how water-stressed countries could provide their people with essential items such as water-intensive products like food, clothing, and shelter, which can define its trade characteristics. For example, a country with limited water resources would rather import water-intensive cotton than use their precious water in cultivating it.


The results of this unique research have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal of Water Resources Research, and Journal of Water. Along with Dr. Barua, and her research scholar Ms Mimika Mukherjee, the papers have been co-authored by Prof. Rosa Duarte, Department of Economic Analysis, University of Zaragoza, Spain, and Dr Suparana Katyaini, School of Livelihoods and Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad.


Explaining the research, Dr. Anamika Barua, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT Guwahati, said, “Virtual water flows assessment is aimed to induce sustainable use that can lead to water security.”


Given the persistent challenge of water scarcity in India and the complexity of water management in the country, Dr Barua’s research helps in bridging the knowledge governance gap to mitigate water scarcity through VW flows assessment.


“The integration of scientific knowledge with policies for enhancing sustainability continues to be challenging in India because of the slow-paced exchange between science and policy spheres,” said the lead researcher.


This study from IIT Guwahati addresses this science-policy gap on water scarcity by first analysing the water flows hidden in agriculture products moving between the various states of India. This 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, i.e., from low to high water scarcity zones/states can help combat water scarcity.


This work showed that in states with chronic water scarcity, planning and implementation of sustainable agriculture are crucial for achieving water and food security. 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.


“A deeper policy engagement would be particularly relevant for the sustainable future of developing and emerging economies grappling with the challenges of water scarcity and fragmented environmental governance systems,” said Prof Barua.


The VW flow analysis can help in framing evidence-based water policies and in establishing the link between the hydrological-economic-institutional aspect of water scarcity.


The IIT Guwahati study is also linked to UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on ensuring sustainable production patterns and to SDG 6 that aims to increase water‐use efficiency across all sectors to substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity by 2030.



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