Articles | Volume 15, issue 9
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2871–2880, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2871–2880, 2011

Research article 14 Sep 2011

Research article | 14 Sep 2011

Analyses of impacts of China's international trade on its water resources and uses

Z. Y. Zhang1,2, H. Yang3, M. J. Shi1,2, A. J. B. Zehnder4,5, and K. C. Abbaspour3 Z. Y. Zhang et al.
  • 1Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100049, Beijing, China
  • 2Research Centre on Fictitious Economy & Data Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100190, Beijing, China
  • 3Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, 8600, Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • 4Nanyang Technological University (NTU), 639798, Singapore
  • 5Alberta Water Research Institute (AWRI), Edmonton, AB T5N 1M9, Canada

Abstract. This study provides an insight into the impact of China's international trade of goods and services on its water resources and uses. Virtual water flows associated with China's international trade are quantified in an input-output framework. The analysis is scaled down to the sectoral and provincial levels to trace the origins and destinations of virtual water flows associated with the international trade. The results show that China is a net virtual water exporter of 4.8 × 1010 m3 yr−1, accounting for 2.1% of its renewable water resources and 8.6% of the total water use. Water scarce regions tend to have higher percentages of virtual water export relative to their water resources and water uses. In the water scarce Huang-Huai-Hai region, the net virtual water export accounts for 8.0% of the region's water resources and 11.3% of its water uses. For individual sectors, major net virtual water exporters are those where agriculture provides raw materials in the initial process of the production chain. The results suggest that China's economic gains from being a world "manufacture factory" have come at a high cost to its water resources.