The Water Suitcase of Migrants: Assessing Virtual Water Fluxes Associated to Human Migration
Disentangling the relations between human migrations and water resources is relevant for food security and trade policy in water-scarce countries. It is commonly believed that human migrations are beneficial to the water endowments of origin countries for reducing the pressure on local resources. We show here that such belief is over-simplistic. We reframe the problem by considering the international food trade and the corresponding virtual water fluxes, which quantify the water used for the production of traded agricultural commodities. By means of robust analytical tools, we show that migrants strengthen the commercial links between countries, triggering trade fluxes caused by food consumption habits persisting after migration. Thus migrants significantly increase the virtual water fluxes and the use of water in the countries of origin. The flux ascribable to each migrant, i.e. the “water suitcase”, is found to have increased from 321 m3/y in 1990 to 1367 m3/y in 2010. A comparison with the water footprint of individuals shows that where the water suitcase exceeds the water footprint of inhabitants, migrations turn out to be detrimental to the water endowments of origin countries, challenging the common perception that migrations tend to relieve the pressure on the local (water) resources of origin countries.