Can nexus avoid the fate of IWRM?
Can Nexus avoid the fate of IWRM?
[This discussion is now closed]
Is the nexus approach the harbinger of a transformative paradigm shift? I argue it promises to be the start of such a new journey for both academia and activists but is fraught with pitfalls of old habits and entrenched hegemonies.
Environmentalists have always emphasized the interconnectedness of natural resources. Nexus as a concept has been around for decades. It found new life when the business community discovered the disastrous domino effect cascading through different sectors of the economy with the 2008 financial crisis. A fortuitous convergence of thinking between business and activist communities has broadened the support for intersectoral, i.e. "nexus", solutions. This is potentially unlike the equally laudable integrated water management (IWRM) paradigm which was hijacked by water agencies to prevent radical transformation by focusing on technocratic and procedural solutions.
Examples abound of projects designed and implemented within narrow disciplinary or departmental silos that failed to incorporate important benefits or unknowingly caused harm. However, when one looks for good examples of nexus planning and implementation, they are difficult to find. So, what is new with the nexus paradigm? At its core lie much-ignored aspects of governance: moving away from technocratic fixes of "wicked" problems; recognizing complex trade-offs; replacing faith in full control with flexibility and adaptive management; and giving equal primacy to not-easily quantifiable values of ethics and justice arrived at by listening to marginalized grassroot voices.
Unlike IWRM, which had water as the center of attention and the river basin as the theater of integrated management, nexus broadens the field to energy, food, transport, health, climate change, and much more. This nexus focus across physically dissimilar sectors and wide geographical spread opens up both rich new possibilities and bewildering conceptual and methodological challenges.
For example, linking water and energy inevitably brings in climate change: the energy sector is a major cause, but social and economic impacts are mainly felt through the water sector. It is not just changing flood-drought intensity and frequency, but also changes in humidity/soil moisture leading to the destruction of old cropping practices, prolific spread of invasive species, urban water shortages, disease pandemics, etc. The energy sector has dominated the climate discourse with its problem definition (average temperature rise) and solution (mitigation and shift to renewables). Could a nexus approach to, for example, multiple forms of water storage for multiple uses – from wetlands and water harvesting to groundwater and storage dams –make a better contribution to climate accords by killing several birds with one stone?
Closer to home for this writer, the Indian government recently passed an Act to make the River Ganga (along with 110 other rivers) navigable year-round, which is impossible without storage of monsoon flows in Nepal. Will this see an alliance of commercial interests looking for cheap, energy-efficient transport with environmentalists battling an entrenched irrigation bureaucracy that vows not to let a drop be wasted to the sea? A nexus approach to environmental politics would certainly open up that possibility in the currently moribund transboundary negotiations between Nepal, Bangladesh and India.
Such a nexused outcome is neither inevitable nor easy. As with IWRM, mainstream analysts in big corporations and government agencies are likely to frame the nexus problem as manageable through the same old technocratic tools of methodological individualism – expert modelling using efficiency-driven criteria – and market myopia, which does not bode well. Nexus is in danger of getting enmeshed within the same comfort zone as IWRM, of silo practitioners filtering out uncomfortable knowledge around social injustice and powerful hegemonies that marginalize the weak.
Where would a more nexused journey start from? I argue that any opportunity to transcend silos and practice a real nexus approach can come about in one of three ways: 1) by the serendipitous appearance of enlightened statesmen; 2) during disasters and major disruptions when silo thinking's limitations get exposed (which seems to be happening during the Covid-19 lock-down); or 3) by reforming institutional arrangements to reflect genuine pluralism in management styles.
This third avenue, re-tooling governance, is the most challenging but ultimately most sustainable path to implementing nexus solutions. It will require government agency, market and civic players to be nudged towards a genuine partnership of public-private-civic "constructive engagement". This does not happen naturally, but it lies at the very core of natural resource and environmental politics. In Nepal, the success of community electricity distribution (some run by women's groups operating agriculture cooperatives or community forestry programs) is an example of change through effective nexus politics.
Bureaucratic agencies with their penchant for control and market individualism focused on monetary profit are conservative forces of silo thinking and practice. However, they can be nudged towards a nexus approach by a coalition of civic society partners. Academics engaging in trans-disciplinary research and advocacy can influence and support journalists and politicians who often need to consider multiple interlinkages in their work. Trans-disciplinary academia promotes "problem feeding" from one discipline (and thus one silo) to another, to redefine the nature of the solution they would otherwise have promoted. This of course is somewhat theoretical.
In practice, getting powerful technocratic bureaucracies to open themselves up to the lived experiences of the marginalized will be a very political process, of different intensities in varied societies. Success or failure (or probably something in between) of the nexus approach, and avoiding the fate of IWRM, will be determined by the nature, scale and intensity of the engagement, which is bound to be clumsy, as all political processes are.
Dipak Gyawali is a hydropower engineer-political economist, an academician with Nepal Academy of Science and Technology and used to chair Nepal Water Conservation Foundation. He was Nepal's minister for water resources in 2002/2003.
"Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution" Clay Shirky Principle, or even more brutely "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"Upton Sinclair.
Based on personal experience over 15 years, IWRM was never comfortable for the technocrats. Indeed, they challenged and resisted interference by non-experts, but were in many instances overwhelmed by the superior logic and international demand for inclusive (multistakeholder) in decision making since The Brundtland Report on Our Common Future and the adoption of Agenda 21 at Rio 1992.
Several authoritarian governments in the global south found the mobilisation of social capital from non-technical stakeholders quite useful, and IWRM as an organising principle became rapidly accepted as an iterative process towards better, more effective planning tool that brought on board different water users and sector institutions often in competition with one another.
However, there was push back from some technocrats, supported by their international funding agencies, uncomfortable with the slowness of decision making that stakeholder processes and intersectoral give-and-take required.
Thus came the "IWRM light", the WEF Nexus, positioned by its promoters as the practical business-case oriented trade-off between just three sectors enabling a much after turn round. unfortunately, the platforms or organisations that initially supported IWRM seemed to cave in to the energy and confidence exuded by the new kid on the block, some even seeking to abandon the IWRM principle in favour of "practice" or "implementation" and seeking changed mandate for themselves.
In my subsequent experience- despite the expedited process the WEF nexus brought on board- practitioners and stakeholders sustained the momentum often below water (a frog's perspective, to misquote Dipak) and it continues to inform situations where the issues and actors demand complex, integrated responses. Like climate change, environmental restoration and biodiversity conservation, where decisions based on trade-offs between sensitive social groups is necessary.
Secondly, the greatest attribute of IWRM is the participatory, social process, that challenges and forces technocrats to examine their decisions, and not the panacea it seems to promise that is much derided by sceptics.
Thus, WEF is step towards the riverbank, but IWRM will get you to the other side.
The idea to have in this FORUM a comparative analysis between IWRM and the WEF Nexus is great and I hope it will finally provide to all of us: academics, engineers, water professionals and decision-makers, with some useful inside on how to deal with the complex issue of Water Resources Management.
From the previous discussion, which I found very rich in arguments and personal experiences on this topic, I must confess that I am a bit confused by the mixing of different issues, like technical methodologies, water policies, inter-disciplinarity, social issues, cost-benefit evaluation, water management, politics and water governance.
IWRM and the WEF Nexus are not either policy frameworks or regulatory directives: they are technical/scientific methodologies that can be translated into policy documents if these methodologies are not only theoretical but have a basis for practical applications. In this direction, the question is twofold: (1) WHAT are the main elements inside each acronym (analytical framework), and (2) HOW each methodology can be implemented (theory and practice).
The Integrated Management Approach, which is the key-stone of IWRM, started with the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference that replaced the “eco-development” by the “sustainable development”. The UN Rio declaration in 1992, based on the so-called 1987 Brundtland Report on “Our Common Future” has further analyzed this concept that becomes a topic for research in many Universities in Europe and the USA.
Thanks to the Google Scholar I re-discovered a paper I have written on this “new” at that time scientific paradigm (see
the pdf at:
http://www.inweb.gr/files/Papers/Water Resources Management at the Turn of the Millenium - Towards a New Scientific Paradigm (2001).pdf
IWRM is not only a theoretical methodology as it was described in detail by the following GWP Technical Document No 4: https://www.gwp.org/globalassets/global/toolbox/publications/background-papers/04-integrated-water-resources-management-2000-english.pdf
It was converted in policy regulation with the 2000 EU Water Framework Directive (EU-DFD 60/2000/EC) after many years of negotiations between the EU Commission, the EU Parliament and, consultation with private and public companies. See the following link:
Ten years after the first implementation of the EU-WFD, which is compulsory to all 27 European Member States, the EC has launched an evaluation process, called the “Fitness Check of the WFD”.
The main drawback of the IWRM framework is about the issue of “Integration”. Also in mathematics, integration is much more difficult than differentiation. In IWRM around “water” at the center it is not clearly explained what is to integrate and how this integration will be implemented. In the IWRM methodology we can read that we should integrate together with surface water resources some other natural resources, like groundwater, soil, vegetation, and also ecosystems, to combine technical, ecological and economic approaches and least but no last integrate different economic sectors, like agriculture, water supply, industry and energy. To me one of the main failures of the IWRM and the EU/WFD is the fact that interaction with specific sectors and mainly agriculture remains very week.
In the question, if the Water-Energy-Food Nexus is a new scientific and policy paradigm, I would respond no. The WEF nexus is a specific case of the IWRM methodology, by prioritizing the three W-E-F sectors. This is OK but what we wanted to know is HOW these three elements can be handled together. The Latin word “nexus” that means a strong inter-connexion, as in the “Gordian Knot”, don’t provides any explanation of its structure. Analytically we don’t know how to model WEF and make future projections. In policy, we don’t have adequate institutions and guidelines for managing it.
In reality, if there is no prioritizationon between the three WEF components, in any particular application there are winners and losers. Maximising the food production, as in the case of Thessalia (Greece) and Guadiana (Portugal and Spain), food production becomes the winner and surface and groundwater resources, as well as energy consumption, are the losers. The NEXUS process is not sustainable because extended water scarcity under climate change may retrograde the environmental quality and jeopardise the existence of humans and terrestrial ecosystems. So what we need is a Hydro-centric-Food-Energy Integrated Management (HFEIM) approach. See
and a “good” water governance:
Since my last summary of 19th April, this Nexus Dissensus Forum has seen a burst of insightful and thought-provoking interventions from Barbara van Koppen, Simon Thuo, Luxon Nhamo, Mike Muller, Richard Meissner, Jacques Ganoulis and a cryptic one from Alan Potkin (Alan, is your critique of Khieu Samphan that he is an integrationist or a Nexus-ist, or as I perhaps understand it, is it your telling point – to my argument that nexus is also brought about by charismatic leadership – that charisma can go horribly awry?) We are now entering the final week and we hope to see more from many others as well.
Again, to brutally summarize:
IWRM has done a good job of bringing together water professionals to address global policy agenda around multi-faceted water issues. However, it has failed to go beyond national and international professionals and middle-class interests to larger multipurpose developments or to better rural successes that are facing new challenges from globalization, climate change etc.
IWRM, beginning as it does from water, does not go far enough in meeting today's evolving challenges as do more polycentric ones such as the Nexus approach, circular economy, etc. (Old joke: a man asking for directions to reach a certain place was told, "Yes, I can tell you how to get there but I would not start from here.") Nexus specifically has moved beyond conceptual discourse to tools that are useful for moving forward in a complex and intertwined world.
There exist big gaps between concepts and paradigms developed in the North and their transplanting to the Developing South via consulting services. Powerful Southern technocratic elites are quite adept at mobilizing these as social capital to push back against any meaningful change (i.e. form versus substance). Nexus (or IWRM) politics would be very different in established comfortable settings where tools such as taxation work than in fluid and unsettled politics of much of the Global South where subsidies are an easier way out.
If "integration" or Nexus is used mainly as a technical/scientific tool within a sector like water, it does provide for some success as long as WHAT to integrate is within methodological comfort zones (such as groundwater and soil moisture with agriculture). When it moves to integrate different sectors such as energy, food, urban congestion or (Heaven help us) the whole environment, things start fraying badly, particularly for those pressed with solving issues here and now on the ground.
"IT IS THE POLITICS, STUPID!"
The questions that now emerge pertain to the deployment of these concepts.
Water, energy, food each have well-entrenched and complicated supply chains from the ground to the user (for food, from the farm to the dinner table and waste bin destination). Each link of the chain is sustained by tough politics of those who stand to gain or lose massively either way, and cannot afford/have no time to take in (or listen to) elegant academic arguments. Each link in the chain is also seen as highly dysfunctional by someone outside the chain trying to deploy the Nexus or IWRM approaches.
Because of the nature of the links in the chain, one may be proposing very different politics (or policy prescriptions if you want to be polite), if one places water at the starting front as with WEF than if one placed food as with FEW. The same applies to energy. This brings us to the difficult questions of trade-offs. Nexus has gone beyond IWRM in bringing in the interests of other sectors to the fore without just privileging water, and in some cases interesting tools to clarify what trade-offs are involved. But in general, these tools still use the metrics of economic and financial valuations without much success in assessing other values such as strategic or spiritual/humanitarian concerns.
In opening up the envelope of trade-off possibilities (and the politics embedded therein), it is critical that social carriers of different values – especially those who try to speak for the socially marginalized and the environment – be not only found a place at the policy table but also responded to meaningfully. This constructive engagement is critical to determine how much and at what points each sector is a private good (profit for market individualism), public good (controlled stewardship of redistribution for bureaucratic hierarchism) or common pool good (human rights of activist egalitarianism). Trade-offs between contending values and contradictory certitudes cannot be forcibly fit into one-size shoe of money metrics. This is where nexus methodologies could clarify to a great extent, but not substitute for, political trade-offs.
Looking forward to your active participation during this last week!
Earlier I referred to the adage 'science speaking truth to power' and after seeing Dipak's post I thought to embroider on science's link with power. I often hear that science should speak truth to power especially in the context of evidence-based policy analyses. This also holds true for the WEF nexus. In 2018, I reviewed a number of articles for Frontiers in Environmental Science that investigated the operation of the nexus in several contexts. With the exception of Vivianna Wieglied's and Antje Buns's article (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenvs.2018.00128/full), which took an interpretivist stance as opposed to an explanatory view, the papers investigated the nexus from a mechanistic perspective with some employing models to show the interaction and necessary trade-offs between water, energy and food in a changing global climate. The articles then produced recommendations to policy makers based on their investigations and conclusions. In this way, many authors operationalised '(empirical) science speaking truth to power'.
However, and looking at Dipak's post about nexus politics, there is an instilled believe among many researchers that their work should be policy relevant and their (empirical) scientific investigations would be 'enough' to bring about policy change. I agree with Dipak that the Nexus is good at telling us 'what' to integrate but when it comes to adding more sectors to integrate in order to solve problems on the ground, it becomes much more complicated and even complex. This is because politics enters the fray. The 'what' Dipak refers to links with 'what' is possible to do from an empirical perspective. Regarding this, the Nexus has been framed instrumentally to answer the 'what': to integrate the three sectors at a grand societal scale involving governmental policy makers as the final 'customers' of empirical studies. What the empirical sciences often neglect is to judge who can act and with what right and obligations. This brings in politics as the authoritative allocation of values in society (Easton). 'Authoritative allocation' is not only the right or obligation of policy makers and politicians (the elite); non-state entities and even individuals are also 'authoritative allocators' in their own right. That said, politics is not only state or governmental power, but also the diffusion of values, defined along normative (ethical) lines, throughout society by a host of state and non-state actors.
All in all, (empirical) science is not enough to bring about meaningful change within the policy environment, because politics play a decisive role (good or bad) throughout policy processes in various contexts and dynamic issue areas. Based on this, empirical science rarely, if ever, speaks truth to power. Said differently, empirical science is not enough to inform us about the right and obligations (e.g. politics) of individuals on a daily basis operating within a nexus environment. In light of this, we also have to consider the broader political ramifications along normative lines of integrating WEF. As WEF nexus researchers, we do not only have a right and obligation towards policy makers and politicians but also a right and obligation towards the rest of society to critically engage with policy paradigms, like the WEF nexus, and highlight its normative shortcomings and often unintended consequences.
Thanks, Dipak, for noting my "cryptic" posting of a week ago on Dr. Khieu. I assumed that anyone wanting to decode my remarks could have followed the link... which would have shown that Khieu was in large part the brains behind the Khmer Rouge's WLE ("water, land and environment", presumably) agenda, although they didn't use that formulation; and following the downfall of the psychopathic Pol Pot, rose to the top of the KR politburo. I hadn't then been much involved in Cambodian enviro planning/WRM so all I knew was what we all knew: i.e., that the KR managed to murder, directly or indirectly, about a quarter of the entire country's population in a half decade... presumably towards seeking to optimize —materially and morally— WLE allocations down to the micro level. My point was that putting we, the degreed and certified experts, in absolute totalitarian command comes at considerable risk.
Even before the COVID 19 situation —in which we're all now immersed for the foreseeable future, and which has demonstrated all-too-well the limitations of degreed and certified expertise, and the extreme downsides of the over-empowerment of that class— the ascent of Trump; Brexit; the crumbling of the EU; the delegitimation of the UN (and of the Paris climate accords particularly); and in my own sphere, the obvious inability of the Mekong River Commission to effectively manage for posterity an aquatic resources system on which the nutrition of 60M riparian inhabitants depends in fair part, suggests that more finely adjusting the conceptual framework has reached the end of its string.
I used the opaque terminology, "polycentric and transformative approaches to provide cross-sectoral quantitative relationships..." introduced into our discussions here by Luxan Nhamo as exemplary expertise jargon well beyond my own abilities to unpack, although I'm getting old, and my doctoral studies date back to the 1980s.
Useful discussion and a very timely one as we are exploring different ways to implement integrated and systems-based approaches to sustainable development and food systems transformation. Nexus approach emerged also as one of the possible responses to the lack of success in the operationalization of the IWRM in practice. However, it failed to take into account one of the main lessons from experiences with IWRM that is, that achieving policy coherence and integrated planning and management is not just a techno-managerial issue, but also a deeply political one. The organization of political processes is always intrinsically messy and open-ended, something that may seem to clash with the desires of techno-managers for clean and finite causal pathways that are informed by expert knowledge.
As Francois Molle mentioned, the nexus debate was and remains helpful in attracting attention on the complex trade-offs that have to be made between sectors. However, just as in the case of IWRM, addressing governance of the nexus proved challenging. The nexus approach tends to be based on and reproduces a belief in the production of neutral information based on expert-based optimisations as the basis for policy-making. Without denying the usefulness of such information, it has to be recognized that it is rarely sufficient.
Addressing trade-offs and improving policy integration across sectors is a fundamentally political process requiring negotiation amongst different actors with distinct perceptions, interests and practices. The interplay between critical economic sectors of activity leads to complex arbitrations regarding resources allocation modalities, equity or equality of access and the inclusion of diverse stakeholders in decision making processes.
Acknowledging this prompts modesty in terms of what can be changed or improved and how fast, and being flexible, innovative and ready to adapt. Despite its limitations, the nexus approach does have a potential for innovation. Some countries are taking the concept as a basis for reflection. What makes it interesting is the fact that it does not provide a picture of an idealized scenario or image of what the sustainable and integrated resource management should look like, but emphasizes the need to understand the reality of the situation, behavior of key actors, their relationships, and how they are influenced by existing policies, strategies and plans as well as by global trends.
Where a nexus approach needs further research and development is: i) its scope – the need to prioritize the most critical cross-sectoral linkages and potential conflicts; ii) the methods that incorporate social and political context of select sectors (e.g. overlaps in institutional mandates, lack of compatibility of geographical and political scales, differences in enforcement culture, power and information imbalances, pressures from interest groups, and the cumulative effects of history); and iii) engagement of affected stakeholders and decision-makers. Without capturing the full range of societal and governance challenges related to key interlinkages and trade-offs between select sectors, decision-making processes and stakeholder behaviours, identified (technocentric and administrative) options risk remaining largely non effective, and not leading to expected improvements in resource use efficiency, sustainability and equity.
In this very interesting Water Dissensus Forum we have so far learned a lot about IWRM and the Nexus as tools for a “good” or “bad” management of water, energy and food in different socio-economic environments around the world. From a comparative analysis between the two tools, there is a general consensus about the theoretical or scientific merits of IWRM, although its capacity to embrace in the ground different environmental and social sensitivities as in developing countries and the possibility to interact with other economic sectors, such agriculture, is often put into doubt. The WEF Nexus tool is considered by definition to be a polycentric tool and the question remains if a cost-benefit analysis could put the “Food first” (FWE) or the “Water first” (WEF) in the Nexus.
This brings us, in the context of water management, to the links between Water Science, Hydro-Policy and Hydro-Governance, defining Hydro-Governance as the integration of Water Science and Policy into the Water Politics. In reality, there are big gaps between these three issues: we usually talk about the divide between Science and Policy but gaps also exist between Policy and Governance and between Science and Governance.
IWRM is following the European tradition for the legal regulation of water use, as a legacy of the ancient Roman law, and was successfully implemented, at least in Europe, for bringing together Science (the IWRM model) and Hydro-Policy (the EU-WFD). Its possible failure in integrating sectoral applications is not because of the IWRM concept but rather because of the poor connection between Hydro-Governance and Policy.
Concerning the application of cost-benefit analysis to the Nexus, water prevails because although the water pricing is generally low, its intrinsic value for human existence and ecosystems survival is infinite. The problem with the WEF is that we don’t know scientifically how to model it and how to predict future WEF evolution. This means that Governance and Policy without a strong scientific approach are unable to provide “good” water management.
In fact, from the Coronavirus Pandemic Crisis, we have learned at least two things (1) how the high pressure of human activities on Nature may have catastrophic consequences. For example, only a few weeks after reducing almost to zero economic activities in cities and coastal areas, the water in Venice’s canals became much more transparent and dolphins came close to the shoreline in Thessaloniki, my the Mediterranean home city. We can easily imagine the benefit to water resources from reducing water overuse and groundwater over-pumping or the climate change mitigation from eliminating globally millions of tons of CO2 gaseous emissions through the drastic reduction of the international and national air travel. (2) because epidemiologists don’t know how the COVIR-19 is transmitted and how we can model the pandemic contamination of populations, governments are unable to take the right decisions and every week we are witnessing contradictory decisions about the confinement, the use of masks, the opening time of schools and how to restart economic activities. This is a good demonstration that no effective governance and right policy can be implemented without a good knowledge and understanding of the situation.
Of course, from the ancient time of Athens in Greece to different political regimes that humanity has experienced, the main question prevails: “who should rule the state” and decide about Hydro-Governance? Diachronically we have got different answers: Athenians, practicing a direct involvement of all citizens in the city’s governance answered that the people’s majority, “the demos” should rule (direct democracy). Plato, the Greek philosopher has provided in the same period a simple but difficult answer: “the best” should rule. Many years later, Carl Marx asked the same question and between the “workers” and the “capitalists”, he opted for the workers. In different times and places, the army or the leading party took the power and imposed a Dictator to rule with disastrous consequences in the loss of freedom, bloodshed and violence, as in the case of Pol Pot in Cambodia. In modern democracies, with an indirect representation of citizens, many drawbacks are visible such as populism (see the Brexit issue), no respect for the rule of law (Trump politics) or poor participation in the decision-making and lack of solidarity (European Union). However, as Churchill said, democracy is the “least bad” and the issue is how we can reach a “good” democratic hydro-governance (see:
I feel that it is important to note that in order to realistically take the nexus approach, it is essential to approach water and land use and climate from a far broader perspective than is presently generally given. This would be one in which water and land management entail carefully considering the entire global hydrological cycle and the interconnected nature of the eco-systems which maintain it.
This cycling of water is intimately linked with energy exchanges among the atmosphere, ocean, and land that determine the Earth's climate and cause much of natural climate variability. The impacts of climate change and variability on the quality of human life occur primarily through changes in the water cycle. As stated in the National Research Council's report on Research Pathways for the Next Decade(NRC, 1999):
"Water is at the heart of both the causes and effects of climate change." (NASA)
“Ensuring that ecosystems are protected and conserved is central to achieving water security – both for people and for nature. Ecosystems are vital to sustaining the quantity and quality of water available within a watershed, on which both nature and people rely. Maintaining the integrity of ecosystems is essential for supporting the diverse needs of humans, including domestic, agricultural, energy and industrial water use, and for the sustainability of ecosystems, including protecting the water-provisioning services they provide.” (U.N Analytical Brief 22/3/13)
The safeguarding of the global water cycle, through ecosystem restoration, in accordance with Target 6.6 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda offers a valid way for implementation.
“By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes”
Here is a link to a Sustainable Development paper written as an input to the UN Secretary General for his 2019 SDG Report.
I look forwards to further discussions related to this nexus approach.
As we close this Water Alternatives Nexus Dissensus Forum, we who took part both actively and passively have definitely gained a few new insights. I must, however, admit my surprise at the large number of friends otherwise active in the IWRM/Nexus research/debates who did not enter the fray but chose to relay quite interesting views and concerns by other more personal means, i.e. emails, skype, WhatsApp etc. I will try and speculate below why as I summarize the last week.
o Since my last summary and posing further questions, new responses (Richard Meissner, Alan Potkin, Dubravka Bojic, Jacques Ganoulis and Stella Joy: thank you!) have also highlighted the centrality of politics and the need for researchers to use the Nexus approach (or IWRM) to find more effective ways to engage with it. This is particularly true in much of the Global South where politics is more fluid and less structured procedurally than in the Industrialized North and where the need for integrative approaches to resource management is perhaps more pressing.
o Like Leo Tolstoy's happy families (opening lines of his novel Anna Karenina), both Nexus and IWRM are useful tools on their own to understand the complexities of the interface between natural resources and society, whether approached from the side of water, food, energy or even major crises such as climate change and health.
o However, and again like Tolstoy's unhappy families that are unhappy in their own specific ways, both can be faulted for their reticence in tackling the 'P' worded bull by the horns, so to speak, as it makes mince-meat of well-meaning academic models and their recommendations. And until they begin to do that, their usefulness to the powers-that-be will only be ornamental, to be used for display on important occasions but to be locked away otherwise for business as usual.
o Interesting personal reactions I received during these discussions have highlighted how we are shackled by the terms we have deified and use, which blinker us to the politics underlying siloed and de-nexused real-life scenarios – words dominating water, energy and food agency narratives such as 'governance', 'best practices', 'policy makers', 'stakeholders' etc that sanitize away entrenched hegemonies and power relations.
o I will use 'stakeholders' as an example. Late Ramaswamy Iyer (possibly India's best water resources secretary) was emphatic that there is no such thing, that there are only stake-winners and stake-losers. Indeed, the term is said to come from the American Wild West where settlers drove a stake to the ground to claim for private homesteading what was Native American common pool open prairie, as big a land grab as any in history. Cultural Theorist Michael Thompson tells me there is an even older history to the term: in pre-paper currency Britain, gamblers gave their purse of wager coins to someone having NO stake in the game to hold and to give to the winner (thus preventing the loser from having second thoughts). This is the exact opposite of the meaning it has today and which does not hide the underlying power politics as current usage does.
o Has IWRM and now Nexus become unwitting prisoners of corralled thinking when they do not unpack the politics of justice, vested interests and hegemonies behind such defining terms? Can one put a village landlord and the village landless serf in the same room and claim, as development agencies do, to have held a successful "stakeholder meeting"?
o Indeed, what is becoming apparent is that there are no homogeneous and monochrome "stakeholders" in the Nexus debate, only contending social solidarities of market individualism, bureaucratic hierarchism and activist egalitarianism in each link of the Nexus chains. They each deploy different types of power (i.e. politics or "policy" which is nothing but a formula for the use of power one has): persuasive, coercive or moral respectively. So far both IWRM and Nexus researchers have not found a way to model those driving values that over-ride mere monetary or legal/procedural/administrative metrics.
Nexus and IWRM are both here to stay, albeit much being dependent on how their practioners face the varied political challenges ahead. Indeed, judging by how many new Nexus networks are popping up and finding significant grant backings for their efforts in Europe and America, we can be sure that the debates will be more ebullient and boisterous in the days ahead. And those of us who took part in this Nexus Dissensus Forum will be going away a bit richer in questions if not answers that will enrich our research activities in the years ahead.
I am grateful, and thank you all on behalf of Water Alternatives and its editors/moderators/logistics managers.
This posting attracted fewer comments than the previous one, an issue that Dipak addresses in his wrap-up comment. Nevertheless, it did inspire a lively and interesting discussion from which I hope others learned as much as I did. The "elephant in the room" is what Dipak calls the "P" word. Politics. For many technical-minded people this conjures all kinds of negative images. It is certainly messy and all too often leads to outcomes that are neither optimal by any objective measure or just. However, having lively active political processes, even those flawed by uneven power distribution, is better than the opposite. That said, it also suggests we need far more effort to reform political processes to make them fairer and to increase the likelihood that science drives complex decisions. Nexus analysis like IWRM remain important as tools to understand systems and improve forecasting on how specific interventions are likely to play out.
I want to thank Dipak for his willingness to put his ideas forward, possibly at some political risk, and for his even-handed and constructive responses to the diverse comments. And thank you all those who did comment.
The next discussion will begin soon--stay tuned!