An urban systems framework to assess the trans-boundary food-energy-water nexus: Implementation in Delhi, India

Anu Ramaswami, Dana Boyer, Ajay Singh Nagpure, Andrew Fang, Shelly Bogra, Bhavik Bakshi, Elliot Cohen, Ashish Rao-Ghorpade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


This paper develops a generalizable systems framework to analyze the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus from an urban systems perspective, connecting in- and trans-boundary interactions, quantifying multiple environmental impacts of community-wide FEW provisioning to cities, and visualizing FEW supply-chain risks posed to cities by the environment. Delhi's community-wide food demand includes household consumption by socio-economic-strata, visitors- and industrial food-use. This demand depends 90%, 76%, and 86% on trans-boundary supply of FEW, respectively. Supply chain data reveal unique features of trans-boundary FEW production regions (e.g. irrigation-electricity needs and GHG intensities of power-plants), yielding supply chain-informed coupled energy-water-GHG footprints of FEW provisioning to Delhi. Agri-food supply contributes to both GHG (19%) and water-footprints (72%-82%) of Delhi's FEW provisioning, with milk, rice and wheat dominating these footprints. Analysis of FEW interactions within Delhi found >75% in-boundary water-use for food is for urban agriculture and >76% in-boundary energy-use for food is from cooking fuels. Food waste-to-energy and energy-intensity of commercial and industrial food preparation are key data gaps. Visualizing supply chains shows >75% of water embodied in Delhi's FEW supply is extracted from locations over-drafting ground water. These baseline data enable evaluation of future urban FEW scenarios, comparing impacts of demand shifts, production shifts, and emerging technologies and policies, within and outside of cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number025008
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 8 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • coupled water-energy-GHG footprints
  • food energy water nexus
  • risk, ground water vulnerability
  • supply-chain
  • sustainability
  • trans-boundary infrastructure footprints
  • urban system


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