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Policy

Nexus in South Asia // The Water, Food and Energy Nexus in Pakistan

By Dr Aqeel Ahmed Bazmi. The country needs a dynamic Nexus framework that attempts to equally weight sectoral objectives and provide a new paradigm for diagnosis and investigation.

This article was originally published on the Daily Times website and republished on the Nexus Resource Platform with the permission of its author. 

The water, food and energy Nexus has emerged as a new perspective in debates concerned with balancing potentially conflicting sectoral imperatives of large scale development investments concerned with energy, water or food security. The water, energy and food security nexus means that water, energy and food security are intimately linked. Food production requires water and energy; water extraction, treatment, and redistribution requires energy; and energy production requires water. An actions in any one area usually impacts one or both of the others. The water-food-energy nexus is central to sustainable development and the complex linkages between these critical domains require a suitably integrated approach to ensuring water and food security, and sustainable agriculture and energy production.

Pakistan is an agricultural country and agriculture generates nearly 60 percent of the country’s GDP and provides employment for 43.4 percent of its workforce. Most importantly, 65.9 percent of the population living in rural areas is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Rising population, shrinking agricultural land, increasing demand for water resources, widespread land degradation and inadequate infrastructure appear to be major concerns of the agriculture sector in Pakistan. Alongside, among all the imminent challenges that Pakistan is facing, water crisis is the most critical problem of the country. According to the world resource institute, the country is among the leading five that face extremely high water scarcity and low access to safe drinking water and sanitation. According to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, Pakistan may run dry if the prevalent situation continues. Despite having tremendous potential, Pakistan is confronted with an intense ‘energy crisis’. The lack of long term sustainable policies, mismanagement, bad governance and lack of awareness at the grass root level are some of the causes leading to the crisis.

Current frameworks of the government of Pakistan are partial as they largely represent a water-centric perspective. The CJP stressed the need for accelerating efforts to build dams and the Prime Minister appealed to the overseas Pakistanis for making donation for the construction of dams. Concentrating on water crisis alone will not provide a sustainable framework to cope with the amalgamated water, food and energy crisis the country is going to face in the coming era. The country needs a dynamic Nexus framework that attempts to equally weight sectoral objectives and provide a new paradigm for diagnosis and investigation.

The water, food and energy nexus has emerged worldwide as a new perspective to structure large-scale investments. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has been among the first organizations to identify the water, food and energy nexus as a key development challenge, calling for a better understanding of the inter-linkages between water, energy and food at the 2008 Annual Meeting in Davos (Water Security: Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus, The World Economic Forum Water Initiative. Island Press, Washington DC, US; WEF 2011 Report). WEF’s Water Initiative explored water security in relation to energy and food systems, climate, economic growth and human security challenges, and the Water Resources Group at WEF launched a Nexus initiative with water security as a practical entry point. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has developed a methodology to assess the water, energy, food, ecosystems nexus in Trans boundary Rivers and aquifers (UNECE Task Force on Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems, 2013). The method proposes a consultative, open-ended process to identify the ‘‘complex chains of cause-effects that link human interventions to environmental degradation and availability of resources”. An illustration of Water-Energy-Food Nexus is shown in Figure below which depicts a range of typical interactions in the cross-sectoral connections.

Nexus perspective provides the most benefit in inter-sectoral negotiations if these connections are understood as continuously evolving linkages, decomposed for an actual application context. Policy interventions can be made in any one of the food, water or energy sectors while it is evident historically that, decision-making has been largely sector specific and independent in Pakistan. The scenario developed in the Fig. depicts three discrete entry points, introducing sector specific interests. As mentioned earlier, the Nexus approach aims for cross-sector coordination instead of sector specific optima to avoid unintended side-effects and negative sectoral trade-offs.

Water, energy, and land demand is influenced by different policies, for example those relating to agriculture, energy, land-use, food, fiscal, credit, prices, and subsidies. These relationships are dynamic (as shown in Fig). However, policies in Pakistan, as in many developing countries, are generally narrowly sectoral, with disconnect between those for food, water, and energy. By ignoring the underlying interdependence of the three sectors, policies sometimes have the unintended consequence of shifting a crisis from one sector to another. With competing demand for resources and increasing environmental pressure, an important challenge, the country is facing, is how to minimize conflicts among the three main sectors of food, water, and energy, and promote synergies in policies and instruments.

The lack of connection between sectoral agencies has created an imbalance between the sectors in terms of demand and supply. The connections between macro-economic and sectoral policies and cross-sectoral impacts are not yet internalized into national policies. The cross-sectoral externalities have placed additional pressure on land, water, energy, and other scarce resources and undermined the long-term sustainability of food, water, and energy security. The government of Pakistan must develop policies and instruments to decouple food production from water and energy use intensity and environmental degradation to make it sustainable. Coordinating investments and developing consistent policies that allow for sustainable development would ideally involve diagnosis and subsequent understanding of all sectoral connections, specifying potential trade-offs and synergies for the specified context, the design of effective measures that help mitigate or reconcile trade-offs and exploit synergies. Also with a focus on, ongoing monitoring and assessment of investment consequences on Nexus dynamics.

Furthermore, the development strategies should include and analyze projects for coordinating investments like hydropower , energy crops, irrigation projects, and water diversion.

About the Author

The writer is an Associate Professor in COMSATS. He can be reached at engr_aqbazmi@hotmail.com.

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