Evaluating Inequality or Injustice in Water Use for Food

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Joel A Carr, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States, David A Seekell, Umeå University, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå, Sweden and Paolo D'Odorico, Univ Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States
Water availability and population density distributions are uneven and therefore inequality exists in human access to freshwater resources; but is this inequality unjust or only regrettable? To examine this question we formulated and evaluated elementary principles of water ethics relative to human rights for water and explored the need for global trade to improve societal access to water by transferring plant and animal commodities and the “virtual water” embedded in them. We defined human welfare benchmarks and evaluated country specific patterns of water use for food with, and without trade, over a 25-year period in order to elucidate the influence of trade and inequality on equability of water use. We found that trade improves mean water use and wellbeing, when related to human welfare benchmarks, suggesting that inequality is regrettable but not necessarily unjust. However, trade has not significantly contributed to redressing inequality. Hence, directed trade decisions can improve future conditions of water and food scarcity through reduced inequality.