A session of the Nexus Game was held during the 5th Targeted Regional Workshop for Global Environment Facility (GEF) International Waters (IW) Projects in Africa in Gaborone, Botswana. The Nexus Game is a social simulation that exposes players to nexus challenges connected to transboundary water management. This article describes the main findings and take-aways of the Nexus Game participants and how the game raises awareness and understanding for different needs and perspectives.
This article was originally published by IW:Learn and can be accessed here.
By IW:LEARN. The recognition of water-food-energy nexus is essential to human survival and sustainable development. With a rising global population, advancing urbanization and intensive economic growth, the demand for all three is constantly increasing. Moreover, the inevitable interconnections between these domains require a more holistic approach to their management that takes into account potential trade-offs and synergies and ensures that the limited resources are used efficiently and sustainably.
In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted to ensure access to drinkable water, food and clean energy to all. However, despite progress over the past years, the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remains a challenge. A lot of people still don’t have access to safe drinking water, are undernourished or lack access to modern electricity.
To address these problems and provide feasible solutions, the 5th Targeted Regional Workshop for Global Environment Facility (GEF) International Waters (IW) Projects in Africa was held in Gaborone from 28 to 31 May 2019. The event was organized by the International Waters Learning Exchange and Resource Network (IW:LEARN) and the Southern African Development Community Groundwater Management Institute (SADC-GMI) and focused on Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus, Groundwater Governance, Legal and Institutional Frameworks, Sustainable Financing and Creating Investable Projects, Economic Valuation, and Water Funds.
The program was packed with presentations and activities that triggered discussions on how to address the biggest global threats. Challenging as it is, this task called for unique tools. This is why Piotr Magnuszewski from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) was invited to lead a session of Nexus Game, developed by the Centre for Systems Solutions (CRS) in collaboration with IIASA and Sustainable Energy for All. The tool is used as part of the Integrated Solutions for Water, Energy, and Land (ISWEL) project led by IIASA in partnership with GEF and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
How is it different from other awareness-raising activities? Nexus Game is more a serious game - a social simulation that encourages players to take mock decisions in a simulated world much like ours. It undertakes the topic of water-food-energy nexus but rather than presenting it intraditional formats, the simulation directly exposes participants to arange of nexus challenges connected to transboundary water management (read an article to explore a game-based approach to Nexus).
How did it work in Gaborone? Players took on the roles of an NGO worker, a journalist and key ministries of two fictional riparian countries (they called them Pula and Batwe). From this perspective, they experienced a wide range of complex geographical, political, economic, environmental and social challenges that shaped their mutual relationship and triggered either cooperation or conflict. Watch the video below for more information:
A lot of tension between players stemmed from the interdependencies between the two countries. The upstream one had the privilege of controlling the headwaters and deciding on how much water would flow downstream. Also, it was favored by the NGO’s role, who claimed that "most problems need to be solved upstream." His position was strongly criticized by the downstream players, as they claimed that they have to bear the unexpected effects of their neighbors’ decisions (such as e.g. water scarcity or pollution).
As one of the players suggested, the stormy discussion over the perceived “unfairness” not only revealed the major conflict between African riparian countries but also made it evident that “policy-makers often don’t think about how their decisions impact their neighbors, especially downstream of a shared watercourse.”
The need to balance water use and determine efficient allocations (also for food and energy) was another issue. The session reminded players that progress comes at a cost and while they may do their best to ensure their nations’ prosperity, increased food or energy production leads to pollution, which in turn, negatively affects wetland ecosystems and freshwater availability.
Most importantly, the Nexus Game revealed that policy-making is much messier than one might think. Faced by time pressure, incomplete knowledge or personal bias, players often make irrational decisions and have to cope with their negative impacts.
All in all, Nexus Game offered a lively, transforming experience and made players understand that cooperation is the only way to ensure us a safe future.
“The simulation helps understand the benefits of collaboration, both inter-sectoral and transboundary. It also highlights the need for joint planning and mobilization of funds to address the challenges faced by affected countries,"
said one of the players.
Nexus Game is just one of the many social simulations developed by CRS, click here for the game catalogue. Each of them is different, including both board-games and computer simulations, but bound by the common mission - to raise awareness. Whether it is awareness of the SDGs, of climate change, of a need for energy transition or community resilience. The goal of these games is also to help us jointly address the big global challenges we are dealing with today.
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