Virtual water flow and water footprint assessment of an arid region: A case study of South Khorasan province, Iran

Ehsan Qasemipour, Ali Abbasi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
133 Downloads (Pure)


Water challenges-especially in developing countries-are set to be strained by population explosion, growing technology, climate change and a shift in consumption pattern toward more water-intensive products. In these situations, water transfer in virtual form can play an important role in alleviating the pressure exerted on the limited water resources-especially in arid and semi-arid regions. This study aims to quantify the 10-year average of virtual water trade and the water footprint within South Khorasan-the third largest province in Iran-for both crops and livestock products. The virtual water content of 37 crops and five livestock is first estimated and the water footprint of each county is consequently measured using a top-down approach. The sustainability of the current agricultural productions is then assessed using the water scarcity (WS) indicator. Results of the study show that in spite of the aridity of the study area, eight out of 11 counties are net virtual water exporters. Birjand-the most populous county-is a net virtual water importer. The 10-year average water footprint of the region is measured as 2.341 Gm3 per year, which accounts for 2.28% of national water footprint. The region's average per capita water footprint however, with 3486 m3, is 115% higher than the national ones. Crop production and livestock production are responsible for 82.16% and 17.84% of the total water footprint. The current intensive agricultural practices in such an arid region have resulted in a water scarcity of 206%-which is far beyond the sustainability criteria. This study gives the water authorities and decision-makers of the region a picture of how and where local water resources are used through the food trade network. The generated information can be applied by the regional policymakers to establish effective and applicable approaches to alleviate water scarcity, guarantee sustainable use of water supplies, and provide food security.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1755
Number of pages18
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Agricultural products
  • South Khorasan
  • Sustainability
  • Virtual water flows
  • Water footprint


Dive into the research topics of 'Virtual water flow and water footprint assessment of an arid region: A case study of South Khorasan province, Iran'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this