Water scarcity under various socio-economic pathways and its potential effects on food production in the Yellow River basin
Abstract. Increasing population and socio-economic development have put great pressure on water resources of the Yellow River (YR) basin. The anticipated climate and socio-economic changes may further increase water stress. Many studies have investigated the changes in renewable water resources under various climate change scenarios, but few have considered the joint pressure from both climate change and socio-economic development. In this study, we assess water scarcity under various socio-economic pathways with emphasis on the impact of water scarcity on food production. The water demands in the 21st century are estimated based on the newly developed shared socio-economic pathways (SSPs) and renewable water supply is estimated using the climate projections under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario. The assessment predicts that the renewable water resources would decrease slightly then increase. The domestic and industrial water withdrawals are projected to increase in the next a few decades and then remain at the high level or decrease slightly during the 21st century. The increase in water withdrawals will put the middle and lower reaches in a condition of severe water scarcity beginning in the next a few decades. If 40 % of the renewable water resources were used to sustain ecosystems, a portion of irrigated land would have to be converted to rain-fed agriculture, which would lead to a 2–11 % reduction in food production. This study highlights the links between water, food and ecosystems in a changing environment and suggests that trade-offs should be considered when developing regional adaptation strategies.