How the Nexus Between Water, Food and Energy Can Promote Development
Developing countries should consider the water, food, energy nexus – which addresses the interconnection between the three vital resources – when undertaking development activities.
Developing countries have increased the security of water, energy, and food supplies remarkably in recent years through investments in infrastructure and policy interventions. However, many challenges persist in eradicating hunger, and ensuring nutritional security while safeguarding environmental sustainability. Governments are seeking to address this with increased food production and access to water and energy to lift the rural population out of poverty.
Towards this goal, they have subsidized water and energy for rural populations, leading to inefficient use and degradation of resources. While respecting national agendas for socio-economic development in rural areas (by subsidizing water and energy), it is essential to ensure that the resource base is sustained, greenhouse gas emissions are restrained, and water-borne diseases are checked.
Hence, developing countries should consider the water, food, energy nexus – which addresses the interconnection between the three vital resources to enhance daily livelihoods and promote socio-economic development – when undertaking development activities. This is often hindered by the fact that these resources are handled by different government ministries.
These agencies are often focused on protecting their mandates, which prevents them from concentrating on the broader needs to guide their investments. For example, an energy ministry may aim to provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity without necessarily paying attention to the sustainable use of groundwater for agriculture.
Governments are seeking to increase food production with increased access to water and energy to lift the rural population out of poverty.
Merging concerned ministries to plan and implement development projects is usually not feasible in the short to medium term. There is a need to find ways to optimize the efficiency of these three resources. The following options can be considered:
- Governments and development agencies should incorporate water, food, and energy in their planning for socio-economic development.
- Executive agencies for water, food, and energy should work closely with higher-level agencies, such as the finance or planning ministries, which might have a broader overview and mandate.
- Embed the shared principles of water, food, and energy into project formulation and implementation.
- When designing new projects, explore ways to merge ongoing government initiatives with the new project. For example, suppose a government agency is keen on rolling out high voltage distribution systems to minimize leakages and provide reliable electricity to farmers to pump groundwater. Providing reliable electricity will relieve farmers' concerns about irrigating crops. The farmers can also pump water above recharge to the aquifer, leading to unsustainable groundwater use. If a high voltage distribution system is combined with drip irrigation and irrigation advisory services, both water and electricity will be used efficiently and sustainably.
Developing policy instruments while considering the nexus of water, energy and food have been the goal of many planners but it is constrained by data, information, and knowledge gaps. Furthermore, political and administrative responsibilities among ministries are not necessarily conducive.
Planners need to find ways to move forward with minimum interruption to existing bureaucracies.