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Nexus Blog // Five key actions to plan effectively for water, energy and food security

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Royal Institute of Technology are putting on a webinar series where they bring together experts to discuss lessons learned from their work in the Near East and North Africa region. This article offers five key actions the SEI considers integral to ensuring water, food and energy security for all.


The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the ongoing climate crisis, has underscored the importance of planning in ensuring adequate water, energy and food for all. In the past year alone, these two crises have contributed to disrupted supply chains, and to record-breaking droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. Both developed and developing countries are vulnerable.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has partnered with SEI and the Royal Institute of Technology to hold a series of webinars to discuss the importance of the water-energy-food nexus and provide examples of current efforts and best practices in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region and beyond. The first two webinars of this series – on 2 February and 15 February – attracted more than 300 participants from more than 30 countries, with experts demonstrating tools and methods to identify nexus solutions and discussing lessons learned from their work in MENA and around the world.

Here are five actions that have emerged so far as key to ensuring water, food and energy security for all:

1. Ensure coherence between water, food and energy policies

Water, food and energy policies tend to be made in silos, with governments rarely considering how policies in one of these sectors affects another. This can become increasingly problematic, particularly in water-scarce areas where the allocation of water can have major implications for food and energy security and vice versa.

“The key is to recognize when a policy has reinforcing implications across sectors, such as water efficiency, and when a policy can lead to negative outcomes in another sector. An increasingly common example is to look towards desalination as a new source of water, without thinking through the source of the massive energy needed to desalinate. It is urgent that policymakers work in collaboration across sectors.”

— Annette Huber-Lee, Senior Scientist, SEI

2. Collaborate across sectors to ensure buy-in for nexus solutions

The operations of the energy, water and food sectors are closely connected, with a number of interactions, but practitioners are typically trained in sectoral silos. Therefore, beyond policy coherence, there is a need for multi-disciplinary approaches among practitioners when identifying nexus solutions.

“Nexus solutions must be found in a participatory and multidisciplinary way. Ideally, a multidisciplinary team encompassing land, energy, water and other relevant sectors should work together in finding solutions to identified nexus challenges in a country or region.”

— Francesco Fuso-Nerini, Professor, KTH

3. Recognize uncertainties and consider them in crafting policy

All sectors are likely to be impacted by evolving climate, demographic, and economic conditions that are difficult to predict. Considering a range of possible futures has multiple benefits in terms of food, water, and energy security. For example, droughts are likely to occur more frequently under climate change, and planning for that possibility can prevent risks, such as loss of hydropower and cooling water for power stations, and loss of food production. Synergistic policies, such as joint water and energy efficiency across all sectors, can also lead to more resilient systems overall.

“Robust strategies tend to emerge as the most promising alternatives when we consider a range of uncertainties. A key challenge is identifying the bounds of possible uncertainties that stakeholders agree are reasonable within a planning context. This is a critical step in establishing the framework under which strategies can be evaluated in a manner that is informative to a stakeholder-driven planning process.”

— Brian Joyce, Senior Scientist, SEI

4. Understand the trade-offs and synergies of a nexus approach

Connections across sectors can be complex and intricate, requiring mathematical quantitative analysis in order to capture key systems dynamics, including both tradeoffs and synergies.

“Quantitative mathematical models can be helpful to identify key connections across sectors, highlight synergies and trade-offs of nexus solutions, and explore different futures. This is essential for supporting decision-making and achieving holistic sustainable solutions.”

— Camilo Ramirez Gomez, PhD student, KTH

5. Incorporate local knowledge into planning to build resiliency

Engage stakeholders in policy-making, throughout all the stages of building a nexus framework, including: the mapping of challenges and the setting of priorities; the joint development of strategies that address these priority challenges; and the ownership of an action plan to follow through on nexus solutions.

“Achieving sustainable management of resources requires a high level of interdependency, as well as resiliency. The nexus framework relies on the effective engagement of stakeholders to shape policies that maximize the tradeoffs across sectors.”

— Youssef Almulla, PhD student, KTH

Join upcoming sessions

Register for upcoming sessions of this webinar series on the energy-water-food nexus.

This webinar series is developed under the regional project, “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Water Efficiency/Productivity and Water Sustainability in NENA countries” (WEPS-NENA) under the FAO-led regional Water Scarcity Initiative (WSI). This project is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Learn more about the project here.

This article originally appeared here on the SEI website is republished with their kind permission

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