Nexus Platform

IWA/IUCN and the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions

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26 March 2013 | Interview

An interview with Mark Smith, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme, and Ger Berkamp, interim Executive Director, IWA

“The ‘call-to-action’ through the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions is to those leading transformations in water infrastructure planning, financing and operation – the people driving change in the use and management of water.”

 

NEXUS Platform: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Water Association (IWA), have initiated the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions. What are the background and main objectives of this initiative?

Mark Smith & Ger Berkamp: The “Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions” is a partnership initiative that grew out of the Bonn Nexus Conference back in 2011. One of the objectives in Bonn focused on launching concrete initiatives to address the water, energy, food security nexus in a coherent and sustainable way. This is one of those initiatives, following up on a commitment made in Bonn.

We saw at the conference that there was increased interest in investing in water infrastructure in different parts of the world because of concerns around water storage, water supply and flood protection for example, as well as food security, population growth and the need for climate change adaptation. In addition to thinking about water infrastructure, however, we were interested in understanding what the broader set of options and technologies might be that work well across the water, food and energy sectors. For example, investments in water reuse to provide an additional water source for industry and agriculture in water scarce areas.

But we understand the Nexus Infrastructure Dialogue goes beyond academic analysis and general discussion.

How do you want to foster “Nexus action”?

The “call-to-action” through the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions is to those leading transformations in water infrastructure planning, financing and operation – the people driving change in the use and management of water. There are numerous approaches that already look at how to meet water, energy and food security needs in such areas as farming, energy production, natural resource management, and engineering. We aim to consolidate this experience and use it to highlight innovative approaches towards the use of infrastructure, technology and finance that will help us to tackle some of the water management challenges in this nexus space.

Could you give us an example?

There are lots of examples around. Think of how financial incentives through pricing can be used to encourage investment in energy and water efficient irrigation. The water savings can be used to generate increased hydropower or provide sufficient water for freshwater fisheries that might be an important part of the economy in a region. 

We want to use this kind of information coupled with a series of workshops to explore how to optimise multi-purpose water infrastructure that can secure water for different uses.

We hope that the Dialogue will move the discussions from the existence of the water, energy and food nexus to action around forming new partnerships that can actively address linking water, energy and food in the localized context of a river basin for example.

The Nexus perspective recognizes the close inter-linkages between water, energy and food security. Can you explain why this recognition will lead to new demands for water infrastructure and technical solutions?

People have become very good at managing and controlling water for energy generation, water supply and food production by using engineered infrastructure such as reservoirs and dams, levees, embankments, canals, etc. Rapidly growing demand for more energy, food, and land, means we must not only look at how infrastructure serves society now, but also in the context of a changing climate and other uncertainties. Demands on infrastructure in the future will be complex, multi-functional, and integrated across sectors. These changing demands mean that in many parts of the world, managing and developing water infrastructure like we have in the past will no longer meet countries’ needs.

There are many good examples from around the world of how to get better results from water infrastructure, in social and environmental terms and for multiple uses and sectors. We want the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions to provide a space for sharing, promoting and learning from these solutions so they can be used more widely and benefit more people.

What’s the role of natural infrastructure solutions in this?

We think also that there are opportunities to understand where and how to make more use of natural infrastructure solutions. Natural infrastructure includes well-functioning watersheds, floodplains, wetlands and forested hillslopes. The services these provide support built infrastructure. For example, the maintenance of catchment forest areas controls soil erosion and reduces sedimentation of downstream reservoirs.

We would like the Nexus Infrastructure Dialogue to explore how built and natural infrastructure along with technology can work together in solutions for water, energy and food security.

In your opinion, what are the main technical and political challenges arising from these new demands?

Change always requires flexibility through adaptation to new rules and regulations, but it also needs changes in attitudes. And this is where one of the main challenges may lie. For example, building a reservoir to store water upstream may provide for water supply throughout the year but can affect the flooding regime that replenishes soil water for agricultural production. A different approach could include combining the engineering of infrastructure with management of natural assets, such as releasing water downstream to mimic the natural flow regime. Or it could explore technologies on how to improve irrigation efficiency to reduce water loss.

So the nexus is already daily practice in many projects?

Combined portfolios of solutions are already out there and functioning in technically optimal ways. These case studies, tools or guidelines, should be applauded, merit wider attention, and receive political and financial support, not least from the other sectors who also rely on water for their continued provision and economic growth.

How does the IWA/IUCN Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions plan to meet these challenges? What activities are planned by IWA/IUCN?

Contributions are invited on best practices, guidelines, tools and technologies relevant to the operation and optimisation of water infrastructure. We have a dedicated website, which was launched in January 2013 and which allows visitors to upload their case studies, guidelines and tools, and download information.

We would like to hear about experiences where water infrastructure and technology have been used and optimized to provide water for multiple uses including water supply, food production and energy generation. What have been the trade-offs, incentives and enabling factors that have promoted innovative solutions?

Submissions will contribute to the online collection of case studies. As well as this, they will be used as inputs into synthesis papers and background information for the Nexus Infrastructure Dialogue Workshops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America throughout 2013, and an International Conference on Water, Energy and Food in 2014. The three regional workshops will bring together people working on these water infrastructure challenges and solutions in each region. The workshops will develop a cross-sectoral vision for water infrastructure solutions that uses best-practice in management and re-operation as well as technology, effective institutions and incentives. We also aim for the workshops to build partnerships for active collaboration in taking the nexus from principles to operationalisation. Outputs will be available to everyone and presented and discussed further at the International Conference on Water, Energy and Food in 2014.

Other initiatives are also working on the Water-Energy and Food Security Nexus, for example the regional Nexus Dialogues, which focus on specific topics such as the Nairobi Nexus Dialogue in November 2012, focusing on the role of foreign investments in the agri-food chain. Do you see a potential for synergies and cooperation with other Nexus initiatives?

Most certainly. We are focussed on infrastructure and technology, and associated financing and institutions, so elements of the agri-food chain are very relevant for us. We want to learn what infrastructure and technology in the food and energy sectors are being used to improve production while still being able to secure water for other sectors. We want to see how irrigation storage can be used to maximise energy generation and food production, but also how water supply to urban areas is sustained through investment in natural infrastructure in upstream catchment areas. Water, food and energy communities of practice are moving towards a discourse that understands that the investment in one area has knock on effects on the others, so there needs to be joint thinking in identifying and applying solutions.

Developing the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions was a commitment made to the Bonn 2011 Conference. It is therefore one part of the larger collective efforts that came out of that conference. We will make sure that the contributions we receive and the experiences and ideas shared in the dialogue on infrastructure are used to reinforce the wider dialogue on nexus policies, innovations and collaborations.

Thank you for the interview!

Mark Smith is the Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme. He leads IUCN’s work on water, environment and development at global level and provides strategic leadership for IUCN on water policy in major international forums.

Ger Berkamp is the Interim Executive Director of the International Water Association. His special areas of expertise include optimizing water resources for human and environmental needs, and his more recent focus has been on urban water management and water-energy optimization.

 

This interview was originally posted on the Nexus Platform. To read the original interview, click here.