Jenny Kehl examines the relationship between water security and economic development. Kehl is the Global Water Security Scholar for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and political economist at School of Freshwater Sciences. Kehl connects science and social science to analyze how water scarcity affects food production, energy consumption, political stability, and economic growth in local and global water systems. Dr. Kehl has worked in Africa, Asia, the American Southwest, and the Great Lakes on water security, development, and equity issues, with a focus on environmental stressors and dispute resolution. Kehl addresses water issues that are politically charged and economically driven. She articulates the need for strategic thinking, multidisciplinary education, and innovative policies to promote political and economic stability, environmental sustainability, and responsible stewardship of water resources.
Access to water has a profound impact on food security, political stability, economic prosperity, and international security. Scholars across multiple academic fields predict that water scarcity will be “the defining crisis of the twenty-first century” (Serageldin 1999). Competition to control water resources has sparked volatile disputes in India, Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Cambodia, China, and many other river systems. Yet water policy remains underdeveloped, under-researched, cloaked in other security concerns, or dismissed as an issue of scarcity to be addressed by future technology. The purpose of my research is to examine global water-use efficiency in the interest of promoting food security and political stability. The research focuses on areas that have high population growth or urbanization, an increasing demand for food, high water-flow variability, and high water exports. Water exports are the amount of embedded water or hidden water exported in water-intensive products. For example, it takes 500 liters of water to produce a cup of rice and it takes 32 kg of water to make a computer microchip (Hoekstra and Chapagain 2007, Hoekstra 2003, Williams, Ayers, and Heller 2002). This new type of measurement provides a more comprehensive understanding of water-use efficiency and supports the development of better agricultural trade policy. The research will provide new data and analysis for understanding international water and food markets. It will also break new theoretical ground by examining the hidden global water trade and its relationship to scarcity, stability and security. The methodology will focus on a cross-national quantitative analysis of water-use efficiency in food production (m3/ton) at the country level, and the hidden water exports in the food market [(ton/year) x (m3/ton)] at the global level. The proposed research examines this dynamic in five crucial river systems selected for high levels of urbanization, food demand, and water-flow variability: the Seta, Shinano, Mekong, Mississippi, and Colorado. The research takes an international multidisciplinary approach and builds national and global perspectives on water scarcity and food security.