event 20 Apr 2020

Article // The power of best practice WEF Nexus cases

This article was originally published on the IUCN website (iucn.org) and has been re-published here with their friendly permission. It deals with the question of how the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus can support an expansion of development possibilities in times of increasing competition over water, energy and food resources?

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Tajikistan. © EJ Wolfson (@ejwolfson), Unsplash.com

To answer this question, IUCN has launched its latest publication on the water-energy-food nexus: Increasing returns on investment opportunities by applying a nexus approach: Best practice nexus case studies. Prepared in the frame of the EU-funded Central Asia Nexus Dialogue Project, the report draws on eight best practice cases from around the world, proposing the nexus as an approach that could resolve potential resource conflicts. The text covers a range of water, energy and food security concerns of interest for a variety of key stakeholders.


A better understanding of the nexus can enable societies to address the shortcomings of single sector approaches. While recognising linkages between natural resource uses it enables the brokering of compromise and even synergies between competing interests.

Best practice nexus cases:

  • The Zambezi Basin: A multi-sector investment opportunity analysis;
  • The Volta River Basin: Trade-off analysis for transboundary infrastructure investment planning;
  • Multiple sector use of irrigation infrastructure across Asia;
  • Nexus approach in the Senegal River Basin;
  • Agribusiness as natural infrastructure in the southern African region;
  • The Rhine River Basin: multi-stakeholder cooperation;
  • Water Hyacinth control in Indonesia: a multi benefits analysis; and
  • Solving inefficient irrigation in Indonesia.

The best practice nexus cases include examples of multi-purpose infrastructure, which provides a convincing way forward, as it means the integration of social and environmental externalities and benefits to multiple sectors from a single investment. By looking for multi-sector and multi-purpose investments to enhance development, increase production and economic growth, the nexus is likely to:

  • Reduce the pressure on line ministry budgets because investment costs are shared with others, and so are risk identification and mitigation; and
  • Increase economic returns on a given investment because of the multiple benefit streams and improved management.

The cases present an opportunity for key actors to learn from global experiences on nexus and may inspire action as well as help identify opportunities to solve some of the key questions around transboundary resource governance and management. They demonstrate that the nexus can be used to reconcile competing interests: water, land and energy, or water, food, energy and the environment, or even water, energy and navigation. Inter-sectoral competition, often transboundary, between the water, energy, food and environmental sectors is one of the highlights of the publication. While they are of interest to stakeholders globally, every nexus intervention needs to be designed and planned within the specific context and supplemented by concrete awareness raising and targeted capacity building.

To tailor learning to the Central Asia region, the selected cases are assessed through a Stakeholder-Problem typology that summarises challenges across Central Asia and provides insights into how each best practice case relates to these challenges. This encourages actors to adapt the newly gained knowledge to the unique context of the Central Asian region and to plan for multi-purpose investments as well as consider linkages and synergies between water, energy and food sectors. An analysis of future scenarios for the region translates the lessons learnt from the selected case studies and results of an analysis of the regional institutional situation into proposals for nexus interventions at the national and regional levels.

Future scenarios possible for Central Asia

Although scenarios become little more than storylines of a possible future, they are a powerful way to raise awareness of likely outcomes of different courses of action, or indeed of non-action. The scenarios are aligned along two key axes: (i) the extent to which institutions are strengthened and mandated to adopt a more transboundary approach and (ii) the extent to which planning remains trapped in siloes or has been redirected onto a more multi-purpose, multi-sector basis.

Four possible future scenarios in central asia

In the context of Central Asia, to mainstream the Water-Energy-Food Nexus approach, the following will be essential:

  1. At the national level, nexus perspectives need to be strengthened and incorporated into national policies, strategies and plans; capacities and bottom-up approaches need to be built and local solutions to regional nexus problems sought; and
  2. At the regional level, it will be necessary to develop regional development objectives through dialogue and negotiation, share benefits across the entire Aral Sea Basin and strengthen regulatory frameworks for joint decision-making.

There are many ways to not agree about the nexus, the report authors conclude. What becomes clear is that it would bring a competitive advantage to all institutions (public, private, etc.) and sectors to increase and gain a better understanding of the cause and effect relationships as they execute their mandates and implement policy actions and reforms. Best practice cases are a powerful tool to advance that understanding and foster dialogue.

Available both in English (Increasing returns on investment opportunities by applying a nexus approach: best practice nexus case studies) and Russian (Расширение возможностей для возврата инвестиций посредством применения подхода Нексус: Примеры передовой практики подхода Нексус).

Further reading:


April 2020


©2020 IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature


IUCN: The power of best practice nexus cases

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