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GLOBAL: Joined-up thinking on water, energy and food
JOHANNESBURG, 15 March 2012 (IRIN) – Africa’s third longest river, the Niger, is a source of water, food and energy for nine West African countries. But frequent droughts induced by a changing climate, and exacerbated by rapidly growing demand, pose a threat to water availability and livelihoods.
Big hydroelectric projects involving the building of dams on the river are restricting flow rates and affecting the lives of a million downstream herders, rice growers and people engaged in fishing, scientists warn.
The problem is that plans to harness water for electricity, irrigation and other uses were being developed separately both at the national and regional levels. Relevant officials were not talking to each other about the river and its ecosystems, said Sébastien Treyer, director of programmes at the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) who led a recent study on the basin.
However, countries and communities can overcome the problem of how to share water resources if they adopt what scientists call “the nexus approach”, a key agenda item at the week-long Water Forum in Marseilles, France. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research will convene a high level panel on the approach at the Forum on 16 March.
The nexus approach seeks to find solutions based on the interconnections between various sectors or disciplines and is being widely regarded along with “resilience” as a term that could revive sustainable development.
The term “sustainable development” – given currency by the 1992 Earth Summit – is a “nexus” between environment and development.
“However, after Rio [the 1992 summit] we lost a little of this feeling and the nexus faded away. Now, 20 years later, we must reinvigorate this message of sustainable development through a nexus approach,” said Klaus Topfer, executive director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Germany, at a conference on the nexus approach in Bonn in November 2011.
Imagine a mango orchard which is home to three groups of people. One of the groups depends on the orchard for twigs and branches which it sells as firewood (wood sellers); another harvests the fruit and sells it (fruit sellers); and the third depends on fishing in a pond protected by the trees (the fishing community).