The “Water-Energy-Food Nexus” is one of the present research hotspots in the field of sustainable development. Water resources are the key factors that limit local human survival and socioeconomic development in arid areas, and the water footprint is an important indicator for measuring sustainable development. In this study, the structural dynamics and complex relationships of the water-energy-food system in arid areas were analyzed from the perspective of the water footprint, and the risk characteristics were evaluated. The results show that: Agriculture products and livestock products account for the largest water footprints (>90%), which is much higher than the water footprints of energy consumption (<5%). From the water footprint type, the blue water footprint (>50%) > the grey water footprint (20%–30%) > the green water footprint (<20%). Since 2000, especially after 2005, while energy consumption drove rapid economic growth, it also led to the rapid expansion of the water footprint in the Manas River Basin.
By 2015, the water deficit was relatively serious, with the surface water resource deficit reaching 16.21 × 108 m3. The water-energy risk coupling degree of the water-energy-food system in this basin is comparatively significant, which means that it is facing the dual pressures of internal water shortage and external energy dependence, and it is vulnerable to global warming and fluctuations in the international and domestic energy markets. Thus, it is necessary to adjust the industrial structure through macroeconomic regulation and control, developing new energy sources, reducing the coupling degree of system risks, and achieving sustainable development.
Agriculture (including planting and animal husbandry) is the basic industry and the major water user in arid areas, while industrial industry is the leading industry and the major energy consumer in this region. This study showed that the water footprint of agricultural is a much higher than the water footprint of energy consumption. From the perspective of water footprint type, the water footprint of the basin is dominated by the blue water footprint, which accounts for more than 50% of the total water footprint. The green water footprint varies due to annual precipitation changes, while the grey water footprint generally increases, reaching approximately 30% of the total water footprint. From 2000 to 2015, with the development of the productivity and the adjustment of industrial structure, especially after 2005, energy consumption has brought about rapid GDP growth while also expanding the local water footprint. By 2015, there has been a relatively serious water resource deficit.
Thus, the WEF nexus is very significant in this basin. The traditional way of energy consumption and the ever-expanding water resource deficit make the risks transmitted, stimulated, and magnified among the industries within the system, which can be easily affected by fluctuations in energy markets and climate changes, causing operation disorder or even downtime of the system. Therefore, it is necessary to adjust the industrial structure through macroeconomic regulation and control, and at the same time eliminate outdated production capacity, accelerate the construction and development of new energy, such as wind power, hydropower, and solar power, develop various industries, reduce the coupling degree and system risks, and realize social and economic development transformation through structural reform on the supply side.
© 2019 by the authors.