Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) researchers have paved the way for better water management policies in India. Dr. Anamika Barua, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT Guwahati, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, used ecological economics to study the socio-political factors governing ‘Virtual Water Flow’, an emerging concept at the science-policy interface, with particular reference to India

Virtual Water (VW) is the water involved in the production and trade of food and non-food commodities and services. It is that ‘invisible’ water that has been consumed throughout the lifecycle of the product or service.

The concept of VW was first conceived in the 1990s to understand how water-stressed countries could provide their people with essential items such as water intensive products like food, clothing, and shelter, which can define its trade characteristics. For example, a country with limited water resources would rather import water-intensive cotton than use their precious water in cultivating it.

The results of this unique research have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal of Water Resources Research, and Journal of Water. Along with Dr. Barua, and her research scholar Ms Mimika Mukherjee, the papers have been co-authored by Prof. Rosa Duarte, Department of Economic Analysis, University of Zaragoza, Spain, and Dr Suparana Katyaini, School of Livelihoods and Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad.

Explaining the research, Dr. Anamika Barua, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT Guwahati, said, “Virtual water flows assessment is aimed to induce sustainable use that can lead to water security.”


Given the persistent challenge of water scarcity in India and the complexity of water management in the country, Dr Barua’s research helps in bridging the knowledge
governance gap to mitigate water scarcity through VW flows assessment.

“The integration of scientific knowledge with policies for enhancing sustainability continues to be challenging in India because of the slow-paced exchange between science and policy spheres,” said the lead researcher.

This study from IIT Guwahati addresses this science-policy gap on water scarcity by first analyzing the water flows hidden in agriculture products moving between the
various states of India. This is then linked to the regional water scarcity situation and some existing elements of water policy to understand the gaps in knowledge and governance to mitigate water scarcity in the country.

The team found that some VW flows between states are unsustainable as water through agricultural products flows from highly water-scarce states in North to other
highly water-scarce states in West and South. Such unsustainable flows are driven by a larger population and by arable land. In contrast, sustainable flows, i.e., from low to high water scarcity zones/states can help combat water scarcity.

This work showed that in states with chronic water scarcity, planning and implementation of sustainable agriculture are crucial for achieving water and food security. It also found that the pressure on the freshwater resources in water‐parched states can be reduced by diversifying the production areas through the use of VW flows analysis to produce agro‐climatically suitable food grains.

“A deeper policy engagement would be particularly relevant for the sustainable future of developing and emerging economies grappling with the challenges of water scarcity and fragmented environmental governance systems,” said Prof Barua.


The VW flow analysis can help in framing evidence-based water policies and in establishing the link between the hydrological-economic-institutional aspect of water scarcity.

The IIT Guwahati study is also linked to UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on ensuring sustainable production patterns and to SDG 6 that aims to increase water‐use efficiency across all sectors to substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity by 2030.

About IIT-Guwahati: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati established in 1994 has completed 25 years of glorious existence in 2019. At present, the Institute has eleven departments, five inter-disciplinary academic centres and four schools covering all the major engineering, science and humanities disciplines, offering BTech, BDes, MA, MDes, MTech, MSc and PhD programmes. The institute offers a residential campus to 412 faculty members and more than 6,000 students at present. Besides its laurels in teaching and research, IIT Guwahati has been able to fulfil the aspirations of people of the North East region to a great extent since its
inception in 1994. The picturesque campus is on a sprawling 285 hectares plot on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, around 20 kms from the heart of the Guwahati city.

IIT Guwahati is the only academic institution in India that occupied a place among the top 100 world universities – under 50 years of age – ranked by the London-based Times Higher Education (THE) in the year 2014 and continues to maintain its superior position even today in various International Rankings. IIT Guwahati gained rank 41 globally in the ‘Research Citations per Faculty’ category and overall 395 rank in the QS World University Rankings 2022 released recently. IIT Guwahati has retained the 7th position among the best engineering institutions of the country in the ‘India Rankings 2019’ declared by National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of the Union ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). IIT Guwahati has been also ranked 2nd in the ‘Swachhata Ranking’ conducted by the Govt. of India. Recently, IIT Guwahati has been ranked as the top ranked University in 2019 for IT developers by HackerRank in the Asia-Pacific region.

Among other frontier areas of research and innovation, IIT Guwahati is working towards augmenting critical science research initiatives in Genomics, Developmental Biology, Health Care and Bioinformatics, Flexible Electronics, Advanced Functional Materials, Sustainable Polymers, Rural Technologies, Disaster Resilience and Risk Reduction, and Water Resources and Management. In its silver jubilee year, IIT Guwahati is poised to scale newer heights through all round growth and development.

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