A burgeoning population, pressing development needs and increasing household consumption are rapidly accelerating water use in direct and indirect ways. Increasingly, regions around the world face growing pressure on sustainable use of their water resources especially in arid and semi-arid regions, such as Northern China. The aim of this research is to obtain an overview of the cumulative water requirement for direct (domestic) water use and indirect water use for the basic food consumption of the households in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR), in order to reduce the pressure on grassland of Western China by encouraging sustainable water consumption. For indirect water use, we use VWC (virtual water content) analysis theory to analyze the total consumption package of 15 basic food types that were identified and quantified based on the household survey in 2011. In this survey, domestic water consumption data and food consumption data were collected from 209 representative households with spatial variation across three sub-regions (including meadow steppe in Hulun Buir, typical steppe in Xilin Gol, and semi-desert steppe in Ordos) and temporal variation from 1995 to 2010. The results show that the total amounts of food consumption per capita in three sub-regions all show an increasing trend, especially in Hulun Buir and Ordos. Compared to the direct water consumption, the indirect water consumption behind food production made up a major portion of total water consumption, which is affected (1) geographic locations (grassland types); (2) economic development levels and (3) grassland use policy measures. From 1995 to 2010, indirect water consumption displays a decreasing trend in Xilin Gol and Ordos due to the decrease of meat consumption and increase of fruit and vegetable consumption. When considering the amount of land per household, the grassland in Ordos still faces the great threat of high water consumption pressure. Such water consumption may affect water conservation services and productivity of grassland. Therefore, changing diet behavior and reducing the population can be considered options for sustainable use of water.
Du, B., Zhen, L., de Groot, R. S., Long, X., Cao, X., Wu, R., ... Wang, C. (2015). Changing Food Consumption Patterns and Impact on Water Resources in the Fragile Grassland of Northern China. Sustainability, 7(5), 5628-5647. https://doi.org/10.3390/su7055628