event 11 Sep 2018

BMZ Strategy for Interlinkages Between Water, Energy and Agriculture (Nexus Perspective) // Examples from the MENA Region

By Maarit Thiem and Nisreen Lahham. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has published its new “Strategy for Interlinkages Between Water, Energy and Agriculture (Nexus Perspective) – Synergies and Conflicting Goals” as a guideline for German development cooperation. This article introduces the Nexus strategy by highlighting how some of the fields of action identified in the strategy are currently being addressed in the MENA region.

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https://unsplash.com/photos/aVyagZvfgZg (C) sophia valkova / Unsplash

The German government has been a strong advocate of the Nexus approach since 2011. In the same year, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) organised the “Bonn Nexus Conference” in cooperation with the Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety under the auspices of Chancellor Merkel. The conference provided the first international platform for policymakers, academia and civil society to discuss the need and benefits of an approach centered around the interdependencies of the water, food and agricultural sectors. The conference resulted in takeaways that were brought into the Rio+20 process. Since then, the German government has been active in further strengthening and applying the Nexus approach. In addition to advocating the Nexus approach in their project portfolio, BMZ initiated the Nexus Regional Dialogues - the forerunner to the Nexus Regional Dialogues Programme, co-funded by the EU and BMZ since 2016.

The recently-published "Strategy for Interlinkages Between Water, Energy and Agriculture (Nexus Perspective) – Synergies and Conflicting Goals” is a spin-off from BMZ's new water strategy, published in 2017. By guiding the formulation of country strategies and statements, the Nexus strategy serves as a guideline for German development cooperation and for planning projects in development cooperation.

The Nexus strategy provides a short background of the Nexus approach and defines principles and fields of action. The strategy's objective is to adopt an integrated approach for the three Nexus perspective sectors: water, energy and agriculture (WEF Nexus). It seeks to reconcile their interests and resolve conflicts while respecting planetary boundaries. The strategy stresses that the Nexus approach helps secure livelihoods by protecting natural resources, ensuring economic stability and, in relevant contexts, reducing the risk of conflict or increased displacement. This article introduces the Nexus strategy by highlighting how some of the fields of action identified in the strategy are currently being addressed in the MENA region. By showcasing examples from the MENA region, the article links the fields of action to real case examples.

Nexus Fields of Action in the MENA region

Water, energy and food security are inextricably interlinked in the MENA region, presumably more than in any other region in the world. As demand for resources increases with population growth, changing consumption patterns and low efficiencies that are further derogated by the impacts of climate change, these interlinkages are only intensifying.

The Nexus perspective as spelled out in the BMZ strategy document has thus been well recognised on the regional level. Institutional arrangements and initiatives dealing with the water-energy-food Nexus continue to grow. The League of Arab States, supported by ESCWA and GIZ, is promoting a regional dialogue on the WEF Nexus. The Arab Ministerial Water Council (AMWC) and Arab Ministerial Council for Electricity (AMCE) have issued resolutions in support of inter-sectoral and regional exchange on the matter (1).

On the national level, many countries in the MENA region have already adopted the Nexus perspective. The strategy document outlines a number of examples of fields of action, as well as the impacts and effectiveness of applying these fields of action to cope with WEF security in these countries.

For the fields of action focused on energy and its interlinkages to water and agriculture, the BMZ strategy recommends "advice and support for energy efficiency covering multiple sectors”. This recommendation is already being applied in Jordan, where it complements the National Water Strategy 2016-2025 through a dedicated policy on “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the Water Sector” - targeted at reducing the overall energy consumption in public water facilities by 15% by 2025 (2).

Another recommendation in this field is to “assess energy subsidies to determine their impacts on the sustainable management of water resources”. In many Arab countries, the consumption of fossil fuels is highly subsidised. This is particularly true in the oil-rich nations, where subsidies for residential fuel consumption are as high as 95%. If the efficient management of resources is to be achieved, nations need to begin moving away from subsidies.

In Tunisia, the impact of energy subsidies on the sustainability of ground water needs to be addressed. The Tunisian government, with the aim of supporting energy efficiency in water pumping for agriculture, actively subsidises the cost of Solar Pumping Irrigation Systems (SPIS) through the Tunisian Energy Transition Fund (up to 20% of system costs) and the Tunisian Investment Fund (up to 60% of investment costs), aimed at farmers. As a result of this subsidy policy, SPIS have been deployed all over Tunisia. This risks the overexploitation of groundwater aquifers due to potential intensive irrigation (3).

Measures to control ground water depletion are needed in Tunisia as well as in other countries in the region.

A similar case exists in Jordan, where inexpensive electricity in the agricultural sector encourages high extraction levels of ground water. Coupled with ineffective measures to protect aquifers from degradation and over-abstraction, groundwater is being extracted in Jordan at more than double the sustainable extraction rates that allow the recharge of the aquifers. If the problem is not quickly addressed, this may lead to severe national insecurity (4).

The recommendation on assessing impacts of energy subsidies is coupled with another recommendation to “gradually structure fair energy prices as a way of encouraging careful consumption of resources". After having subsidised petroleum products for many years, many countries in the MENA region are rethinking their energy subsidy policies. As an example, in 2013, Jordan applied a new tariff system with a 15% increase on all economic sectors except for agriculture, which was exempted from the hike.

Regarding the fields of action focused on agriculture and its interlinkages to water and energy, one of the BMZ strategy recommendations is “inter-sectoral coordination for the transition from non-sustainable national self-sufficiency strategies to secured import strategies”. This aligns with the strategy in most of the MENA region countries since one of the main challenges facing sustainable development in the region is water-food security.

Given that 75% of the freshwater resources in the region are used by irrigation, it is becoming more and more challenging to provide sufficient food for the population. The dependence of the Arab world on food imports means that it is a net importer of virtual water. Some studies have indicated that the Arab world's food imports are equivalent to 12% of its annual renewable water resources (5).

Egypt recently announced its decision to reduce the area of land available for rice cultivation by over 50% and to import rice instead. The decision was taken to rationalise water consumption, since rice grows in flooded fields and thus consumes high levels of water. However, convincing farmers to change their cropping pattern to introduce new crops is not easy, particularly given that many of them neither desire nor have the ability to change their cropping pattern, even if alternative patterns may result in higher return and less water usage.

In regards to fields of action that focus on water and its interlinkages to energy and agriculture, one of the BMZ strategy recommendations regarding water sanitation and wastewater management is to “promote sophisticated methods of energy recovery in drinking water and waste water pipes, bio-gas generation/combined heat and power cycle generation in water treatment”. This strategy is applied at the Al-Samra treatment plant in Jordan - a leading regional example of energy recovery from wastewater. The plant uses the energy potential of biogas and bio-solids in wastewater treatment to offset the energy needs of the plant and about 80% of the energy required for its operations is generated by the plant itself. The sludge produced as part of the treatment process is used to produce biogas, which is treated and used to produce electricity that helps power the plant (6).

Another recommendation in this field is to “support activities that harness energy efficiency potential along the value chain of drinking water supply”. This is applied in the MENA region, which today accounts for more than half of the world’s desalination capacity. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the coupling of solar energy with desalination technologies is seen as having the potential to offer a sustainable route for increasing the supply of desalinated water. However, there is a major need in the region to localise knowledge on solar desalination. (7)

The BMZ strategy mentions examples of how countries in the MENA region are beginning to harness the potential and benefits of technology and innovation within the WEF Nexus perspective. Some of these examples are:

  • Coupling solar energy with desalination technologies;
  • Energy recovery from wastewater by using the energy potential of biogas and biosolids in wastewater treatment plants;
  • Supporting energy efficiency in water pumping for agriculture through SPIS by subsidizing the cost of solar pumping;
  • Reducing the area of land available for cultivation of intensive water crops.


1) UN ESCWA, The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus in the Arab Region, p. 14

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