Nexus Nirvana or Nexus Nullity? A dynamic approach to security and sustainability in the water-energy-food nexus

Working Paper
  • Published 30/05/14
  • ISBN: 978-1-78118-169-0

Over the last several years, the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus has emerged as an increasingly prominent global policy, governance and research agenda. Water, energy, and food security are often framed to be within a contested trade-off relationship between actors, and this framing has been reinforced by a ‘scarcity crisis’ narrative put forward by a number of influential global policy actors promoting the WEF nexus.

In this working paper, we argue that the governance of water, energy and food security – historically concerned with safety and certainty from contingency – has privileged control-orientated solutions, in particular the construction of large dams for water storage, in the belief they are more secure and more sustainable. We critically explore the associated risks and uncertainties of this pathway, and highlight that WEF systems are by nature complex and dynamic.

Furthermore, recognizing the power inequalities that often close down the consideration of alternative development pathways, we make legible the multiple framings of water, energy and food security between actors and how these are shaping policy objectives and project outcomes. Responding to the emerging WEF nexus discourse, we seek to introduce a more dynamic perspective to water, energy and food security, and argue that a shift in governance is required towards also incorporating solutions where the limits to control are acknowledged. We propose that plural water storage systems that accommodate a variety of large- and small-scale solutions are an appropriate response to such conditions of complexity and uncertainty and if social justice is to be incorporated within the WEF nexus.

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