South African Forum shows strong potential of Nexus approach for promoting national dialogue
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Nexus Interviews

NEXUS Interview // South African Forum shows strong potential of Nexus approach for promoting national dialogue

An interview with Margaret Catley-Carlson, Vice Chair, Canadian Water Network and Member of the Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB)

On 19 April 2012, the "South African Water, Energy and Food Forum" ended in the Sandton Convention Centre in South Africa. The two day meeting encompassed the entire triangle of the Nexus: several farmers and agricultural groups, the National Energy Commission and several non-traditional energy stakeholders, several mining companies and many water experts and companies attended, as well as very senior officials from Treasury and Finance.

The SA Forum included six plenary sessions with keynote speeches and presentations on:

  1. What is the Mega Nexus?
  2. What is the water component of the mega-nexus?
  3. What is the energy component of the mega-nexus?
  4. What is the agricultural component of the mega-nexus?
  5. Making the mega-nexus work: financing key projects and the role of PPP's
  6. Merging the mega-nexus into a paradigm for a sustainable future

Each keynote was followed by a discussion by panel members knowledgeable or acting in that particular area.

Margaret Catley Carlson, who had also played an important advisory role in the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference, gave the keynote speech in the plenary session one on "The Mega Nexus Concept", and {www.water-energy-food.org} managed to conduct a brief interview on her impressions from the South African Forum:

NEXUS Platform: Maggie, what are your main impressions from the Forum in SA?

First of all, it is great to see that the Nexus concept is increasingly being picked up at the national level such as at this Forum in South Africa. I was specifically impressed that about eighty per cent of the interveners actually stuck to the topic, refrained from detailed descriptions of their own sectoral issues, and tried to analyse the potential for positive change with greater interaction among the different points of the Nexus triangle.

Are there any particular South African Nexus challenges and, if yes, what are they?

It became clear during the Forum — specifically from the impressive report on the South African experience with Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), directed by a special programme within the Treasury — that the country does have the capacity to manage and implement very complex cross sectoral projects.

At the same time one needs to recognise that South Africa has so very much to manage — the often not observed surplus of laws and regulation, a huge and often inefficient bureaucracy, an enormous class of unskilled and undereducated unemployed, great unresolved ideological struggles within the Government — and more.

The challenge of starting to manage new and complex planning and conceptualization exercises bringing three or more sectors together will be huge — and this meeting was an impressive start to do so, vividly underlining the utility of the Nexus as a tool in the right hands to promote very good dialogue.

Are there any new ideas and concepts coming out of the SA Forum?

In fact, the most creative ideas in terms of actual projects, approaches and changed and changing habits were presented by private sector participants, notably Anglo American and SAB Miller. Anthony Turton, trustee of the Water Stewardship Council Trust of Southern Africa, characterized the change happening in South Africa as "we are shifting from planning and investing to meet demand, to planning and investing to cope with resource shortage".

I also realised a marked difference between the acceptance of the notion that "we have to do this differently and use less" from the mining and private sector on the one hand and the farming sector on the other — with one participant acknowledging that "we do things the same way our fathers and grandfathers did them".

What is your take away message from the Nexus Forum in SA?

"There are several: Even though no specific follow up was agreed at the end of the Forum, there was a tantalizing suggestion between two of the interveners who agreed that it was time for the South African mining and agricultural sectors to sit down together and understand each other's' needs. This alone would be an excellent move, from what I learned here about South Africa's Nexus challenges.

Furthermore I just wish we had been able to have such a dialogue-conference when we started to discuss Integrated Water Resources Management; it would have been extremely helpful!

Last but not least and maybe most importantly: the meeting was an impressive start and demonstrated the utility of the Nexus as a tool to promote good inter-sectoral dialogue at the national level. This is of possible use to the World Economic Forum's Water Resources Group as an alternative to beginning with a full expensive analytical tool.

Thank you for the interview!

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