event 14 May 2018

Nexus Governance // Harnessing Contending Forces at Work

By Dipak Gyawali. The aim of the synthesis papers is to bring together sectoral best practice, and to make connections between the multi-sectoral components of the nexus. The papers identify and analyse the main drivers for joint solutions, and the opposing factors that limit working together across sectors. Key factors for an appropriate enabling environment are identified to allow cross-sectoral opportunities to work better and at the most appropriate scale to help bolster existing development approaches. The nexus is only valid as a point of focus if it leads to better development.

Cover nexus covernance harnessing contenting forces at work

For many rural farmers, fishers, and community groups, food, water and energy resources are not considered as separate pillars but are part of the system they live and work in and need to be managed accordingly. Therefore, at the local level, the nexus is a practical everyday reality. However, the conceptual separation and consequent management of these resources is what has happened in the world of experts and government bureaucracies.

Using case studies from Nepal, India and Thailand, this paper explores challenges and governance options that can accept social and physical uncertainties and build synergy across the water, energy, and food sectors. Examples from Nepal, focusing on its only large storage reservoir, the Kulekhani, and its biggest inter-basin water transfer project, the Melamchi, are used to illustrate what unintended consequences a silo approach, either by design or default, can have.

Given the historical lack of success of previous efforts at ‘integrated management’ there is a need to ask how the water, energy, food policy terrain can be expanded to allow for a wider range of institutional voices at different hierarchies to be included. Often they may define the nexus ‘problem’ very differently. Nexus thinking can be encouraged either by leadership or shocks to the ‘system’, both of which can be taken advantage of if they arise. In normal mundane times, opening silo-based approaches can be encouraged by a process of constructive engagement between plural voices of different styles of organizing – hierarchism, individualism and egalitarianism – and at levels from the village commons to the national and regional levels.

This has the advantage of structurally bringing different concerned parties into a horizontal discussions rather than one that is normally vertical, hierarchical and top-down. Information and joint opportunities can then be easier to identify, allowing silos to be linked, i.e. ‘nexused’. Based on the case studies presented in this paper, what remains clear is that dominance, or an unequal balance in favour of hierarchies and against the other two, can lead to the creation of problems for different sectors and often missed opportunities across sectors.

Binding common objectives across institutions and down through sectors through appropriate indicators for example can help to send clear messages to donors and investors regarding clear multi-objective investments that should make them question their own silos. It is compromises with sectors and silos that will lead to better outcomes across sectors.


  • Nexus versus Silos
  • Case Studies
    • The Kulekhani Reservoir, Nepal
    • The Melamchi Transbasin Water Supply, Nepal
    • Examples of De-Nexusing from India and Thailand
  • Integrating ‘Process versus Decree’
  • ‘Integrated Social and Behavioural Science’
  • Whither Nexus Governance?


Nexus Governance: Harnessing Contending Forces at Work




The Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions

Since 2012, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Water Association (IWA) have collaborated on a joint initiative to address competing demands on water resources across the water, energy and food sectors. The objective has been to identify how multisectoral solutions are, or could be provided through infrastructure and other means, including new technologies and investments in ecosystem services. The Dialogue grew out of the Bonn Nexus Conference in November 2011. One of the objectives in Bonn focused on launching concrete initiatives to address the water, energy and food security nexus in a coherent and sustainable way. The conference highlighted the renewed interest to invest in water infrastructure in different parts of the world because of valid concerns for water storage, water supply and flood protection, as well as food security, population growth, and the need to adapt to climate change impacts.

The Nexus Dialogue successfully organized a series of regional “Anchor” workshops in Africa, Latin America, Asia (with UNESCAP), and for the Amu Darya River Basin in Central Asia (with the EastWest Institute). Learning from these workshops culminated in the Nexus Symposium held in Beijing in November 2014, in partnership with the Global Water Partnership (China). The Dialogue has focused on water, energy and food to ensure focussed cross-sectoral discussion. The aim was also to prevent creating new silos around issues such as ecology, carbon, soil, climate, etc. Sectors do not operate in these silos; they operate through public sector profiles that are loosely structured on water, energy and food production as staples of societal needs and economic development. The purpose of the Dialogue was to identify consensus on sustainable and resilient water management for water, energy and food security.

The nexus is not a one-way discussion. Rather, it challenges beliefs within the tribal nature of disciplinary silos. The nexus as a construct challenges the application of knowledge, and it highlights the need for greater integration on core elements such as data collection, sharing, and interpretation. Through dialogue, opportunities can be created to bring together people with a variety of experiences from across sectors, to brainstorm, and exchange knowledge, with the ultimate aim to move to developing and implementing practical actions.

There are many ways to not agree about the nexus. What becomes clear is that there is a competitive advantage for all institutions, public, private, etc., to better understand the cause and effect relationships they are involved in through both implementation of their mandates, and policy actions and reform. Through better identification of risks, sharing the risks, and optimising the trade-offs that need to be made between sectors, advantages for all sectors can emerge.

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