Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 10 June 2022

Serious flaws in the estimations of global water needs are putting agriculture and communities around the world at risk


Image: sima / Adobe Stock

Serious flaws in the estimations of global water needs are putting agriculture and communities around the world at risk, according to recent research from an international team of researchers, including some from the University of Oxford.

According to the research, the large-scale mathematical models which are used 'neglect important uncertainties' in respect to irrigation water needs - making the estimates woefully inadequate.

Dr Razi Sheikholeslami, a researcher from Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, says, "We discuss the dangers of relying on spuriously accurate models for policymaking [in the research paper]… and offer corrective measures to ensure that uncertainties are properly accounted for and quantified."

Dr Sheikholeslami maintains, "We are significantly in the dark and pretending we are not… global hydrological models are often used to inform the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) in the water-food interface and high-level policies."

He adds, "This becomes more critical considering the ongoing transition from smallholder farming to large-scale industrial agriculture… as we showed in our study, current models misguide us under an accuracy mirage, and it is impossible to know whether we are underestimating or overestimating the impact of irrigation agriculture in the water cycle."

The report concludes, 'large-scale hydrological models should recognize and embrace uncertainties lest they become irrelevant tools for future water management.'

You can read the full report on the journal's website.

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