International Partnerships

Water, energy, food, and ecosystem nexus

The combination of the struggle for resources, such as the water-energy-food security nexus, is a source of potential conflict in numerous regions of the world.

The majority of water resources (more than 70%) are used for agriculture, industry, domestic use and for power generation. Many areas need to retain water in their dams and reservoirs to serve the needs of agriculture and to produce electricity.

Other regions, rich in hydrocarbons, need water as part of the energy production process, and this in turn often results in heavy water pollution. All these competing needs for water from the energy and agriculture sectors can create conflicting situations. As a consequence, disputes over trans-boundary water flows, combined with energy, have become more heated in the last years.

Furthermore, climate change will have an increasing impact. Climate change scenarios are expected to have effects on the water availability pattern throughout the year. This is exacerbated by the increasing demand for water due to population and economic growth, higher temperatures and a considerable decrease in precipitation.

These challenges have to and can be addressed by ensuring a better management of linked resources. One example is to reconcile the competing needs of water for energy and water for agriculture while securing needs for underpinning ecosystems. This needs to be done in an integrated, transboundary and equitable way, and by enhancing cooperation across borders.

The Nexus approach

The Nexus approach highlights the interdependence of water, energy and food security and natural resources – water, soil and land – that underpin that security. Nexus identifies mutually beneficial responses that are based on understanding the synergies of water, energy and agricultural policies. It also provides an informed and transparent framework for determining the proper trade-offs and synergies that maintain the integrity and sustainability of ecosystems.

The Water, Energy and Food Nexus represents a paradigm shift in the international development agenda, from sectoral development interventions to integrated resource use in a green economy.

The Nexus approach uses context-specific solutions based on different levels of interventions to achieve long-term economic, environmental and social goals. Bringing the Nexus debate from the academic sphere into development practice faces significant barriers, including challenges to cross-sectoral collaboration and the complexity and incompatibility of current institutional structures. However, greater recognition of sectoral interdependence can help to overcome these barriers.