Complex Policy Mixes are Needed to Cope with Agricultural Water Demands Under Climate Change

Jaime Martínez-Valderrama*, Jorge Olcina, Gonzalo Delacámara, Emilio Guirado, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The divergence between agricultural water use and the annual supply of water resources (water gap) has been increasing for decades. The forecast is that this water gap will continue to widen, compromising the water security of a large share of the global population. On the one hand, the increase in demand is attributed to an ever-growing population that, in addition, is adopting a high-water consumption per capita lifestyle (e.g., meat-rich diet, increased use of biofuels and of irrigated agriculture). On the other hand, climate change is increasing aridification and the spatio-temporal heterogeneity of precipitation worldwide. The water gap is particularly acute in drylands, where development and food security has been based on the massive exploitation of water resources, particularly groundwater. Here we analyze the mechanisms underlying this water gap, which is mainly driven by water use in agriculture, and suggest suitable solutions that can help to close it. Using causal diagrams, we show how population generates different demands that create a water gap that prevailing supply-side solutions cannot close. Indeed, it has been widening over the years because water consumption has grown exponentially. This behaviour is explained by a series of mechanisms that it is necessary to understand to realize the complexity of water scarcity problems. For solving the water gap, we propose and exemplify eight lines of action that can be combined and tailored to each territory. Our analyses corroborate the urgent need to plan an integral management of water resources to avoid widespread scenarios of water scarcity under future climatic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2805-2834
Number of pages30
JournalWater Resources Management
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Causal diagrams
  • Desertification
  • Drylands
  • Supply-side solutions
  • Water gap
  • Water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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