The term “nexus” implies equivalence among its component parts, which can be misleading when applied to the water-food-energy-climate debate as water is more than just one component; it is central to every aspect of the problem. Water is the only element that cuts across social, ecological and economic sectors, and is the only medium through which many of the world’s crises can be jointly addressed. The concept of a “nexus” is however still useful to highlight the importance of incorporating water – explicitly and coherently – in this multi-sector challenge whose constituent parts are too often dealt with in isolation.
One result of taking decisions in isolation is that different development sectors frequently find themselves competing for the finite water resources on which they all depend. The absence of an overarching, strategic framework also means that decisions are made which benefit one sector but which have negative consequences in countries and regions where water is limited. The fourth edition of the UN World Water Development Report, “Managing Water Under Uncertainty and Risk”, specifically warns against treating water as just another sector, and underlines the importance of recognising water’s vital and central role in all development goals. This key UN report, launched in March this year, also highlights how past attitudes have created a disconnection between policies, actions and consequences. This happens when governments expect to manage water as a discrete sector, for example, or decision-makers pay little heed to the impact of their actions on the overall water cycle. The report also highlights that the lack of interaction between water users, decision-makers and managers has seriously degraded water resources and increased the risks to every sector that depends upon them.
On the positive side, more and more people now recognise the crucial link between water and other aspects of development. The fact that some of the most prominent initiatives have been led by actors from the energy and food sectors can also be viewed as a sign that the importance of this link is being understood and acted upon. It is certainly clear that water cannot be confined to a “sector”; its governance requires co-operation and co-ordination across all stakeholders and all economic and environmental sectors. It is vital that the overarching goal of sustainable development explicitly includes water as a key component in all decision-making processes.
Olcay Ünver is Co-ordinator of the UN World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP).