Abstract. The purpose of this study is to analyse the political economy of food-water security in the water-scarce Middle East and North African (MENA) region. Food-water identifies the water needed to produce food commodities and accounts for 90% of consumptive water use of societies. Given the large water volumes required for food production, water and food security in the region are very closely linked. The study deploys the lens of virtual water trade to determine how the region’s economies have met their rising food-water requirements over the past three decades. MENA food-water security is framed in the wider context of international trade, showing that global economic systems have enabled the MENA countries to access global water resources and to effectively mitigate local water deficits. The study shows that the region’s water and food security currently depend to a considerable extent on water from outside the region, ‘embedded’ in food imports and accessed through trade. The proposed analysis includes blue (surface and ground-) water and green (soil) water resources and it shows that the region’s economies have all become net virtual water importers, with larger fluxes mainly associated with the trade in crops. The study also shows that the largest share of the virtual water import of the region is green and originates from Brazil, the USA and Russia, while a large fraction of virtual water export remains within the region. The dependency of each country on virtual water import is quantified with a specific indicator revealing the greater dependency on external water resources of the most developed economies in the region.


PUBLICATION-DRAFT: Antonelli, M., Tamea, S., Food-water security and virtual water trade in the Middle East and North African region