Water efficiency, productivity and sustainability in the NENA regions (WEPS-NENA)

Water-Food-Energy-Climate-Ecosystems Nexus analytical framework

About the Nexus approach

The nexus approach recognizes the inherent connections between water, energy and agricultural management, and the environmental implications of each. These connections have not typically been considered explicitly in water, energy, and agricultural management decision making; thereby increasing the potential for conflicts of interest between sectors relying on the same set of resources as pressure on these grows. This calls for coherent, responsible and consultative planning (de Strasser et al., 2016). One region where growing scarcity motivates strongly the coherent and consultative approach offered by the nexus is the Near East and North Africa (NENA). As the recently approved Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call upon the nations of the world to improve conditions related to water (SDG6), energy (SDG7), hunger and nutrition (SDG2), terrestrial (SDG15) and aquatic (SDG14) ecosystems, and global climate change (SDG13), the NENA region represents a priority area for early application of the nexus approach to support the achievement of the SDGs, with the primary entry point being improved water management, which is the focus of Output 1 (water accounting) and Output 2 (water productivity).

The challenge in this context lies in the defining of a safe operating space for water sustainability, such that actions implemented towards meeting SDG6 do not undercut efforts to meet other nexus relevant SDGs. This is a possibility given how water and watershed management both consumes (i.e. pumping) and produces (i.e. hydropower) electricity, supports food production, and shapes the provision of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem services.  This framing motivates a definition of how much water is available to support energy and food production, and ecosystem services, so that risky excursions beyond the safe operating limits of a water system do not cause other important systems, including ecosystems, to collapse.

By focusing on this system of systems, the project traces out the broad vulnerabilities and opportunities associated with water management in terms of the other nexus related SDGs, simultaneously assessing if other systems could face challenges because of their interdependence with water resource systems across the NENA region. These include climate change, economic challenges related to volatile global energy and commodity markets, social challenges related to the heavy dependence of rural livelihoods on agriculture and geopolitical challenges related to the transboundary nature of important rivers and aquifers in the NENA region.

The Nexus approach aims to make visible complex trade­offs between the natural resource dependencies of energy, food and water systems, and environmental threats including biodiversity loss, climate change and localized air and water pollution. Water quality and sanitation (SDG6, 14–15) are fundamental to social vulnerability (SDG1) and healthy lives (SDG3). Energy is needed to restore water­related ecosystems (Target 6.6, Goal 14–15), sustainably manage irrigation in food systems (Target 2.4), increase water efficiency (Target 6.4, 9.4, 11.b), access and mobilize natural resources to end poverty (Target 1.4), and increase food production (Target 2.3, 2.4). Lack of access to modern energy services can drive ecosystem loss and degradation (Target 15.2) — for example deforestation and forest degradation associated with use of fuelwood. Energy systems can have direct impacts (for example, local pollution or competition for space with energy infrastructure) and indirect impacts (for example, over-exploitation of groundwater with pumping) on conservation, restoration and enhancement of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and other natural resources (SDG9, 14–15; Fuso-Nerini et al, 2018).

Project -Piloting the Nexus approach in two countries : Morocco and Jordan

The methodology for the Nexus assessment is implemented in two countries: Jordan and Morocco. It capitalizes on previous experience gained by the project partners, and involves developing a stakeholder driven, model-supported, nexus-based decision making approach for selected case studies.

In order to make this more accessible to decision makers, the project uses two strategies: (i) tiering off of prior successful water management initiatives in the NENA region; and (ii) expanding a concrete set of activities that have been proven effective at supporting decision making in complex multi-actor, multi objective situations, which involves developing a nexus analytical framework to support the decision making processes.


This project combines two approaches. The first is the UNECE (2015) nexus approach, which begins with efforts to characterize the nexus context of a particular water system. These efforts include several activities (i) to define the socio-economic context, (ii) to identify the relevant nexus sectors and the key actors within each, (iii) to understand the policy dynamics within each relevant nexus sector, (iv) to understand the inter-sectoral dynamics between them, and to use all of these insights as part of an effort to prepare the background material for an inter-sectoral nexus dialogue, that would result in a qualitative understanding illustrated in Figure 1.


Figure 1. preliminary assessment of possible nexus inter-sectoral issues in a hypothetical river basin



The second approach, Robust Decision Support (Purkey et al, 2018, Forni et al., 2016), is based on the theory of Robust Decision Making (Lempert et al, 2006), dealing with complex multi-actor, multi-objective water-energy-food system decision making process that establishes an understanding of how to enable water security that looks across sectors, given deep uncertainties identified by stakeholders in quantitative terms (Huber-Lee and Handly, 2019; Huber-Lee et al., 2020; Weitz, et al., 2017). This leads to a highly iterative process of engagement with stakeholders, development of quantitative tools that are shared with local partners, and revisions based on new knowledge gained on the interactions across sectors over time, illustrated in Figure 2.

Together these two approaches lead to integrative policy making that supports long term sustainability and resilience for people and ecosystems.

Figure 2. Participatory process of engaging stakeholders in the co-development of tools to support WEF nexus planning

This activity is implemented in collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute and KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

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