Potential Themes

Illinois: Disaster Relief and Resilience

Urban health today is often controlled by the ability of a community to recover from a disaster. For example, on the order of $43 billion of damages are estimated to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which has not fully recovered and continues to lack federal aid. Further, a recent swarm of earthquakes has set back progress. The process of recovery is slow and arduous, and regularly reveals underlying deficiencies, and can be complicated by the likelihood of new events in prone regions. 

This cohort challenge is designed to engage students in the development of pathways to make the leap from “disaster relief” to “resilience-building.” Students need to understand that solving the problem by overrunning the system, even in the short term, is only a temporary fix to a chronic and worsening problem. One important step forward is to link major investments between short-term disaster relief efforts and long-term resilience-building to help local leaders make smart decisions to protect their communities. This can be done in the context of Puerto Rico, potentially leveraging several previously initiated efforts targeting underserved communities near the capital city of San Juan. However, lessons learned should be properly identified and recorded, such that they can be applied more widely to similar disasters in other regions around the world—as we recognize, for example, that typhoons arrive in locations like Southeast Asia with regularity. 

Disasters of this scale take many forms, leading to various disruptions in the circulation and availability of food, energy, or water resources. Is it then possible to identify a set of critical resources or infrastructures, such as those that deliver food, energy, and water, that would lead toward long-term resilience, but are often disturbed by major disasters? How would such resources and infrastructures vary according to region, geography, topography, culture, and other local factors that need to be considered when seeking to enhance urban system resilience?  Examples may include water supply, sewage systems, power grid, food supply

Potential Analytical Approach: 

  • multiobjective optimization
  • forensic investigations of disasters (FORIN) 



ESALQ: Challenges and Opportunities for Food Supply in a Changing World

Agriculture in the 21st century faces multiple challenges (FAO, 2009; FAO, 2017). The population is estimated to reach 9.7 billion people in 2050 (UNITED NATIONS, 2019), while urbanization is expected to increase accounting for 70 percent of the world population. Simultaneously, per capita incomes in 2050 are projected to be a multiple of today’s levels, and the world will still be facing the issue of economic deprivation and malnutrition of significant parts of the population (FAO, 2009). Demand for cereals, for both food and animal feed uses is projected to reach about 3 billion tonnes by 2050 (EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 2019). Depending on energy prices and government policies, biofuels have the potential to change projected trends in the cereals demand since they make the global demand higher. These trends mean that food security will continue to be a key driver of socio-political priorities at global, regional and national level (EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 2019).

Together, these movements in the world food market imply a number of challenges, such as of: increasing total food availability; sustainably improving agricultural productivity; satisfying the increasing diversification of consumers’ basket; meeting quality, safety, environment, welfare, and ethical standards; ending hunger and malnutrition; addressing climate change; and keeping food affordable (EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 2019; FAO, 2017).

The pressure on natural resources, such as arable land and water will necessarily increase. Crop yields would continue to grow but at a slower rate than in the past (FAO, 2009). Resource constraints for agricultural production have become relatively more stringent than in the past while growth of yields is slowing down (Alexandratos and Bruinsma, 2012).

FAO (2009) and Alexandratos and Bruinsma (2012) point that, on a global scale there are still sufficient land and water resources to feed the world population for the foreseeable future. The problem is that these natural resources are very unevenly distributed, with an increasing number of countries or regions reaching alarming levels of land and water scarcity (FAO, 2009). Thus, it is the local resource scarcity the veritable constraint in the quest for achieving food security (Alexandratos and Bruinsma, 2012).

How to make food production more efficient is a question that is becoming very important in the agricultural policy makers’ agenda. Many governments wish to know the best pathway to produce the highest food outputs with the lowest resource inputs (Nkamleu, 2003).

More than avoid the excessive cropland expansion, the future food production will need to save a larger range of natural resources in order to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the agriculture intensification, mainly related to water usage and quality, soil quality, biodiversity, GHG emissions, among others environmental negative externalities (Fuglie et al., 2012). 

In view of the spatial dispersion of productivity and inputs availability for food production expansion, such as cropland and natural rainwater, will be a big challenge address the most efficient regions for producing more food, in a way of maximizing productivity and minimizing irrigation and other inputs needs (such as fertilizers). At the same time, decisions about the spatial distribution of agriculture production affects the transportation routes and distances and consequently the energy consumption and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions related to transport operations. Another important aspect is that the world food demand trends combined with climate change are resulting in important adjustments in the food supply chains. Finally, more than to manage the trade-offs among these multiple aspects the food supply chains need to bring healthy food for the final consumers at the lowest possible cost, making food widely accessible.

This macroenvironment requests complex decisions making and the spatial features of the food supply chains can be better planned by using analytical tools such as Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) models, applied for assessing the performance of agriculture production, and Transportation and Location models, used to optimize the configuration of food supply chains.

Potential Analytical Approach:

  • Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) models; and
  • Transportation and Location models.


  • Alexandratos, N., Bruinsma, J., 2012. World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – FAO. ESA Working Paper No 12-03.
  • EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 2019. Global food supply and demand: Consumer trends and trade challenges. EU Agricultural Markets Briefs No 16.
  • FAO – FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED, 2009. How to feed the world in 2050.
  • FAO – FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS, 2017. The future of food and agriculture.
  • Fuglie, K.O., Wang, S.L., Ball, V.E., 2012. Productivity growth in agriculture: an international perspective. CAB International, London.
  • Nkamleu, G.B., 2003. Productivity Growth, Technical Progress and Efficiency Change in African Agriculture. Tunisia. 
  • UNITED NATIONS, 2019. World Population Prospects 2019.


RIHN: Food security and resiliency through Food centric Water-Energy-Land Nexus

In Japan, rice is the main staple food and production is more than 90% self-sufficient. However, consumption and rice fields have both decreased. In this situation, adjustments made to rice self-sufficiency are directly related to food security, but also to other resources, such as water, energy, and land security. The government of Japan must consider  the consequences of adjusting levels of rice self-sufficiency in future. In the first scenario, Japan could remain more than 90% self-sufficient in rice production to ensure its future food security. Other scenarios involve decreasing levels of self-sufficiency to reflect decreasing rice consumption. Food policies designed to improve food security may lead to an increase in domestic products and a decrease in food imports. Such policies can be accompanied by increases in farmers’ incomes. However, food imports can also result in domestic water and energy savings.

Japan may lie at one extreme of this nexus, given ample rain. At the other extreme, food imports are very important for enabling water-poor regions to achieve water security. The holistic impact of such decisions should, therefore, be considered to achieve sustainable development. For example, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the largest water deficit and least food self-sufficiency in the world. Therefore, the trade-off between food security and the savings of water and land through food trade are considered to be significant factors for resource management, especially in the MENA region. For example, blue water savings by barley, maize, and wheat imports were estimated to be 5.0, 2.0 and 0.8 billion m³/yr, respectively, in Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2012. In Egypt, approximately 7.5 billion m³/yr of blue water was saved by importing wheat (Lee et. al., 2019).

Thus, 1) how can we link physical and virtual boundary of water, energy, and food in terms of transboundary management? and 2) how can we combine the different temporal scales of water, energy, and food in terms of transboundary management?

New methodology considering not only spatial and temporal changes but also boundary of management and complex relationship will be needed. Accordingly, we would like to suggest a new approach; “Understanding complex relationship in resources management from trade-offs to synergy” and “Toward transboundary resources management through food transportation from local to global trade”.

To engage in these challenges, students should be trained in the development of their own WEF Nexus framework based on data analysis and analytical modeling that would be adapted into system dynamics through case studies such as “Food self-sufficiency impacts on water-energy-lands management” and “Water-Food governance through the concept of virtual water trade”. Finally, students will assess impacts of food security issues on WEF Nexus using analytical approach such as system dynamics, water footprint and virtual water trade modeling, and network analysis.


Sub-theme #1: Food security impacts on water-energy-lands management

The main function of the Nexus approach is to analyze trade-offs and assess scenarios from multidisciplinary perspectives. A trade-off analysis involves complex relationships between water, energy, food, land, and trade within the context of food management. Resource portfolios that show the quantitative relationship between these components are constructed on the basis of data relating to water, energy, carbon footprints, and productivity. The quantitative impacts of scenarios are assessed according to the trade-offs associated with various scenarios, while a mathematical modeling technique is required to understand complex issues. The quantitative relationship between these components is constructed through a mathematical modeling technique that incorporates referenced and surveyed water, energy, carbon footprint, and productivity data.

As a case study, the study (Lee et al., 2018) found that 10,195 million more m³ of water and 23.31 million more GJ of energy would be required in order to achieve a rice production self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) of 100% in Japan. Furthermore, 283,000 additional tons of CO₂ will be emitted in 2025, as more energy is used. By contrast, an 80% rice production SSR scenario would save 1,482 million m³ of water and 3.39 million GJ of energy, as well as making a 398,000 ton reduction in CO₂ emissions in 2015.


Sub-theme #2: Water-Food governance through the concept of virtual water trade

Food trade could be shrunk or expanded by socio-economic and environmental changes, and it could bring significant impacts on water and energy management beyond the physical boundary of management. The changes in global food trade could affect not only global but also national, regional and local water or energy securities. Impacts of tradable food product on non-tradable water could be assessed through virtual water trade, which indicates the embedded water in food trade, and the concept of virtual water could be used for linking physical water boundary to virtual boundary of water through food trade. In addition, the vulnerability of virtual water import and influence of countries on whole trade could be measured using network analysis such as degree and eigenvector centralities.

The influence of virtual water is dependent on regions such as Asia, Europe, and Africa in terms of internal or external use of virtual water. For example, the external virtual water rate indicates the proportion of virtual water export outside of a boundary. Approximately 46.9% of the green water exports and 40.9% of the blue water exports were discharged from Asia to non-Asian countries through five crops (barley, rice, maize, soybeans, and wheat) from 2000 to 2012; for example, Thailand, which is the main exporter in Asia, exported 55.5% of the total virtual water exported to non-Asian countries  (Lee et al., 2016). Therefore, it could convince the main Asian importers of the risks of serious dependency on foreign water resources, and it showed the necessary for the development of an integrated water strategy in Asia at the same time. 


Sub-theme #3: Integrated Knowledge on Disaster and Environmental Risk Management: A case of dam operation with floods control

Interdisciplinary approach – collaboration among academic disciplines is required for tackling complex environmental problems on sustainability of earth system and human beings, including resource depletion, poverty issue, degradation of biodiversity, and addressing climate change and mega disasters. Such collaboration requires effective work with so called Big Data, which is a common term for large volumes and large variety of data and information. Presently, innovative technologies are being developed to facilitate sharing and exploitation of Big Data for addressing the above mentioned issues, with the Data Integration and Analysis System (DIAS) of Japan being an example, which is now ready for practical use.


Potential Analytical Approach: 

  • Water footprint modeling 
  • Trade-off analysis based on system dynamics
  • Network analysis of food trade
  • Optimization of dam operation considering hydropower and flood control