By importing food and agricultural goods, countries cope with the heterogeneous global water distribution and often rely on water resources available abroad. The virtual displacement of the water used to produce such goods (known as virtual water) connects together, in a global water system, all countries participating to the international trade network. Local food-production crises, having social, economic or environmental origin, propagate in this network, modifying the virtual water trade and perturbing local and global food availability, quantified in terms of virtual water. We analyze here the possible effects of local crises by developing a new propagation model, parsimonious but grounded on data-based and statistically-verified assumptions, whose effectiveness is proved on the Argentinean crisis in 2008–09. The model serves as the basis to propose indicators of crisis impact and country vulnerability to external food-production crises, which highlight that countries with largest water resources have the highest impact on the international trade, and that not only water-scarce but also wealthy and globalized countries are among the most vulnerable to external crises. The temporal analysis reveals that global average vulnerability has increased over time and that stronger effects of crises are now found in countries with low food (and water) availability.

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