Coping with water scarcity in a globalized world

Title of the research project

Coping with water scarcity in a globalized world -CWASI


Scientific area 

Environmental Science, Demographic and Statistical Science, Hydrology

Project coordinator

Francesco Laio


CWASI project tackles water globalization problems using quantitative methods to study the effects of water  relocation and trade through consumption and food production on food security and  water crises occurrence.

Description of the research project 

Food production is by far the biggest form (about 90%) of societal water consumption and entails the most

critical impacts of human societies on the water cycle. The project intends to set up a new globalized perspective to tackle water and food security in the 21st century.

Virtual water is defined as the water needed to produce a given amount of a food commodity. The network of virtual water trade connects a large portion of the global population, with 2800 km3 of virtual water moved around the globe in a year (estimated in year 2008).

The project pursues the following main research hypotheses:

  1. The globalization of (virtual) water resources could be a short‐term solution to malnourishment, famine and conflicts, but it also has relevant negative implications for human societies.
  2. The virtual water dynamics can quantitatively relate water crises occurrence to environmental and socio‐economic factors.
  3. The risk of catastrophic, global‐scale, water crises will increase in the next decades.

The highly innovative element of the project is the combined use of different mathematical  methods to analyze data: advanced statistical tools, complex network theory methods, multivariate nonlinear analyses, multi‐state stochastic modeling and scenario analysis.


Impact on society 

Water represents a primary good in the globalized 21st century world. It will bring more and more conflicts and new challenges to food security. The project will  provide quantitative indications about relocation and trade off virtual water with its positive (transfer of water from areas richer in water resources to poorer ones)and negative (environmental damages, exploitation of hydric resources in fragile socio-economic  or environmental conditions, hydric crises propagation) effects. The final objective is to identify possible solutions to problems linked with virtual water  relocation and trade.


Short CV of project coordinator 

Francesco Laio is a water scientist with expertise in hydrology, water resources assessment, environmental modelling, and statistics. He holds a degree in Environmental Engineering (from Politecnico di Torino) and a Ph.D. in Water Engineering (from Politecnico di Milano). Full Professor in Hydrology, is scholarly activities are documented by more than 140 publications, including 95 papers in ISI peer-reviewed international journals, and a book published by Cambridge University Press.


Research  group 

Luca Ridolfi, Politecnico di Torino

Stefania Tamea, Politecnico di Torino

Marta Tuninetti,  Politecnico di Torino

Irene Soligno, Politecnico di Torino

Paolo D’Odorico, University of Virginia

Massimo Riccaboni, IMT Lucca

Elisa Masi, Università di Firenze

Stefano Schiavo, Università di Trento

     CWASI project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme  grant agreement No 647473

  • Budget: 1.222.500
  • Start date: 1/07/2015
  • End date: 30/06/2020