South African Water, Energy and Food Forum: "Managing the Mega-Nexus", Sandton, SA

Conference // South African Water, Energy and Food Forum: "Managing the Mega-Nexus", Sandton, SA

The South African Water, Energy & Food Forum 2012 is a two-day Forum aimed at exploring the Mega-Nexus between water, energy and food security. The Forum is sponsored by Anglo American, Eskom, Exxaro Resources and Nedbank with additional support from the US Embassy and Independent Newspapers.

South Africa is transitioning into an extremely vulnerable state as water resources become a constraint to job creation and future economic growth. In this context one can think of a transition in a peak water context from a demand-driven to a supply-constrained national economy, resulting in a wide range of ramifications that are as yet mostly unexplored.

-"Peak water" implies a supply-constrained economy with a limited capacity to create new jobs. This becomes relevant as social instability arises from the labour movement agitating for more jobs in the face of diminishing opportunities and increases in efficiency replace human labour with mechanization. This is further exacerbated by the uncontrolled inflow of foreign refugees, driven by a similar transition in neighbouring states;

-Water allocation reform implies a diminishing capacity to be nationally self sufficient in food, so for the first time food security starts to emerge as a threat. This becomes coupled to other land reform issues, which have a national security dynamic of their own;

-Energy security becomes relevant for the first time, because of the intimate linkage between water and energy. In particular the efficiency of converting a given unit of water into a given unit of electricity becomes relevant, as does Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) arising from abandoned gold and coal mines that reduces the available stock of water at national level by driving up the cost of water treatment elsewhere in the economy;

-Access to future water thus becomes relevant in the context of transboundary river basins shared by riparian states and governed by a regime called the SADC Water Protocol (SADC, 1995). This can be thought of as one aspect of "New Water" — getting access to alternative sources;

-Alternative strategic storage becomes relevant because the Hydraulic Mission was about building dams to capture MAR, but that is no longer feasible. This can be thought of as another aspect of "New Water" — reducing evaporative losses associated with large dams by means of managed aquifer recharge

Our future depends on breaking the silo mentality and understanding, and finding solutions to, the challenges that evolved from our highly interconnected and dynamic system. SAWEF brings all the role-players together to develop solutions through the lens of risk. The two-day event will provide ample networking, brainstorming, blue-sky thinking opportunities and hopefully start the dialogue that will lead to long-term sustainable change.

SAWEF 2012 Key Themes

-Understanding, exploring and planning for the "Mega-Nexus", which is made up of the water-energy-food component that is embedded in climate change as a global concern.

-How water security can best be managed in a future that will increasingly be constrained by climate change on the one hand, and a growing population needing food, energy, water and employment on the other hand.

-The energy sector is confronted by a dilemma: while we have large volumes of coal still unmined, we are at the limits of our reliable water supply; and the unintended consequences of coal combustion that include acid rain and AMD are starting to erode our food security

-If we are to attain food security at regional level, what infrastructural development (roads, railways, cold chain facilities) and what policy reforms need to take place at SADC level? What is the future of land reform if so many of the farms fall out of commercial production after being transferred? What is the future impact of acid rain going to be on maize production given that we know the effects of low pH on the mobilization of aluminium as a trace element in the soil, with reduced pollination occurring as the result of deformities in the pollen tubes of maize?

-How do we finance the reduction of acid rain and acid mine drainage (AMD) when the implications of these two phenomena are constantly downplayed?

-How do we attract financing into the alternative energy field under existing cost structures? How do we finance the trade in Virtual Water (water embedded in food, consumer goods and energy)?

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