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The Water-Energy-Food nexus

Agric and water bigWater, energy and food are inextricably linked. Pressures on freshwater are rising – from the expanding needs of agriculture, food production and energy consumption to pollution and the weaknesses of water management. The Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus reflects increasing interconnectedness, synergies and trade-offs between water and energy use and food production. The global community is well aware of food, energy and water challenges, but has so far addressed them in isolation, within sectoral boundaries. If water, energy and food security are to be simultaneously achieved, decision-makers, including those responsible for only a single sector, need to consider broader influences and cross-sectoral impacts (UNESCO, 2014).

Water is an input for producing agricultural goods in the fields and along the entire agro-food supply chain. Using water to irrigate crops might promote food production but it can also reduce river flows and hydropower potential. Growing bioenergy crops under irrigated agriculture can increase overall water withdrawals and jeopardize food security. Converting surface irrigation into high efficiency pressurized irrigation may save water but may also result in higher energy use. Energy is also required to produce and distribute water and food: to pump water from groundwater or surface water sources, to power tractors and irrigation machinery, and to process and transport agricultural goods. Recognizing these synergies and balancing these trade-offs is central to jointly ensuring water, energy and food security.

The increasing interconnectedness between water security, and energy-food security is being widely labeled in contemporary debates as the WEF nexus. This approach to sectoral management, through enhanced dialogue, collaboration and coordination, is needed to ensure that co-benefits and trade-offs are considered and that appropriate safeguards are put in place . Publications provided in this section explore how global water and climate communities can meaningfully be brought together to ensure harmonised interdependence between water, food and energy security at different scales.

Image credit: V. Atakos for CCAFS | Flickr

Charting our water future: economic frameworks to inform decision-making
McKinsey and Company 2009
The world is increasingly turning its attention to the issue of water scarcity as many countries face water shortages as a fundamental challenge to their economic and social development. This study focuses on how, by 2030, competing d...
Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture
International Water Management Institute 2013
Paper examining four case studies to demonstrate uncertainty management approaches in short- and long-term adaptation planning. Achieving food security in the face of climate change is a huge and complex public policy issue. Th...
Water, food and energy nexus challenges
World Business Council for Sustainable Development 2014
Comprehensive yet concise report outlining the key challenges and projected demands in the global agricultural sector, from an energy-water-food nexus perspective. Based on several existing data-sets, this paper by the World Bu...
Nexus Nirvana or Nexus Nullity? A dynamic approach to security and sustainability in the water-energy-food nexus
J. Allouche; C. Middleton; D. Gyawali / STEPS Centre, Institute of Development Studies 2014
STEPS Centre working paper proposing a dynamic approach to security and sustainability in the water-energy-food nexus. In the wake of various global crisis in energy, food, and finance since 2008, together with growing concerns...
Food, water, and energy security in South Asia: a nexus perspective from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region
G. Rasul / Science Direct 2014
With limited land resources, inadequate energy supply, and growing water stress, South Asia faces the challenge of providing enough water and energy to grow enough food for the burgeoning population. Using secondary data from diverse ...
Facing climate change by securing water for food, livelihoods and ecosystems.
International Water Management Institute 2007
International Water Management Institute paper on the need for and composition of a water research agenda from a water-food-livelihood nexus perspective. Understanding the impact of climate change on water availability is of pa...
Climate change: impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation in developing countries
UNFCCC National Adaptation Programme of Action 2007
The result of regional workshops held in Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as one expert meeting held in small island developing states, this United Nations Convention on Climate Change text outlines the impact from climate chan...
Water and climate change adaptation: key messages for the 15th COP
Global Public Policy Network on Water Management 2009
With not a single mention of water in the outcome documents of COP13 or COP14, it is of vital importance that water issues be addressed in a manner that befits its importance. This is the reasoning behind the Global Public Policy Netw...
Adapting to climate change in the water sector
A. Nicol; N. Kaur / Overseas Development Institute 2009
This background note, published by the Overseas Development Institute, provides an overview of the potential risks and vulnerabilities that face the water sector due to climate change. It also summarises of some of the adaptive strate...