event 11 Oct 2011

Nexus Blog // How can the Nexus Ensure Water Works for us all?

We only have a limited amount of freshwater on this planet, so how do we use it?

category Nexus Blog
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When did you last think about the many different ways water influences our lives? For me, a yearly reminder is the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, which gathers some of the most prominent scientists, thinkers and others interested in water issues. Much of the focus this year was rightly on the need for safe drinking water and sanitation, which was declared a human right in 2010. The 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goal on access to water and sanitation is fast approaching, and while water access has made progress, sanitation is still far behind. And that's without taking into account the potential impact of climate change, which could reverse any progress made.

Going deeper into water issues

But access to drinking water and sanitation aren't the only problems, water is needed for so much more, a fact that many of the delegates of the conference were becoming increasingly aware of. Despite there being enough water on the planet for us all, it is unevenly distributed, and climate change is making this worse. On top of this a growing population coupled with changing production and consumption patterns are putting further strains on the resources available. The upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit, scheduled for June 2012, talks about the 'water, food and energy nexus'. Food security is a key topic that the world is battling with, but agriculture is the highest user of freshwater — do we have enough water to produce more food? Similarly even 'green' renewable energy technologies can be highly water intensive, such as hydro-power and biofuels — how do we match the demand for this? On top of this, in addition to our fundamental need for drinking water, industry needs water to function, as well as water also being vital to the flora and fauna which keep the planet flourishing.

Using the 'nexus' so that water works for us all

For many poor communities around the world, struggling with water, food and energy provision is part of everyday life. On a policy level, however, implementing a 'nexus' approach is no easy task. Where water is scarce different needs must be prioritised, but what is the basis of decision making? While governance and regulation must play its part, much talk is also about the 'value' of natural resources, bringing water and other natural resources - once considered infinite - into the formal economy to discourage overuse. From Progressio's point of view, a key priority is to understand what role poor people play within all of this. It is clear that overuse must be discouraged, but it is also clear that poor communities without reliable access to water must be prioritised — and women need to play a key part since they are often the main water managers on a household level. Any 'nexus' or market based approaches must have this recognition at its core.

When the water is there but you can't get to it

Ultimately sustainable and equitable governance and management of water resources must play a key role. This is essential because water scarcity in itself isn't always the main problem. Out of the 2.8 billion people who live with water scarcity today, over half suffer 'economic' water scarcity, meaning that water is there, but it isn't accessible due to financial, human or institutional capacity. Without this understanding no 'new' solutions will ultimately be sustainable, which also has implications for both food and energy production. Crunch time is approaching and we need to put our thinking caps on to ensure we stay on a path which ensures the 'nexus' lens remains an effective tool for ensuring water, energy and food security at the macro level, as well as -supporting those immediately most in need in the battle to secure food, energy and water at the micro level. If we truly want to ensure the 'nexus' approach has a positive impact across both the macro and micro levels, as well as in the short and long term, it is essential that an equity perspective, including the needs and knowledge of poor communities, is at its heart. If anything, those most in need are the ones who will never take neither water, food nor energy for granted and will always have it on their minds.

Petra Kjell is Progressio's Enviroment Policy and Advocacy Officer. Progressio helps people gain power over their lives and overcome barriers that keep them poor. For more information about Progressio and our upcoming campaign for water justice see {www.progressio.org.uk/water} or contact {esther@progressio.org.uk}.

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Tina Schmiers

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