Perspectives on the Nexus: Water, Energy and Food Security in an Era of Climate Change

  • Larry A. Swatuk
  • Corrine Cash
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


This collection is centered on the so-called nexus. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a ‘nexus’ may be defined as: (a) connection, link, and also a causal link; (b) a connected group or series and (c) center, focus (see There is a well-known trend in policymaking circles toward integrating water, energy and food policy—the WEF nexus—within an overarching climate change and security ‘nexus’ (see Water Alternatives special issue guest edited by Allouche et al. 2015 and International Journal of Water Resources Development special issue guest edited by Allan et al. 2015). This is reflected in the policy frameworks of the Department for International Development (DfID) and the German Development Agency (GIZ) where the ‘nexus’ is the new operating framework. In addition, significant forums such as the Stockholm World Water Week, hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and the World Economic Forum have drawn concentrated attention to the linked security issues surrounding water, energy and food, largely from a management perspective (WEF 2009; 2011; b; 2015). The basic argument is that treating water resource management discreetly—even if within an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) framework—is incomplete, because all water decisions impact possibilities for ‘energy security’ and ‘food security’, particularly within an era of globalization under the overarching context of climate change. According to Stern and Öjendal (quoted in Leese and Meisch 2015: 695–696), a nexus ‘can be understood as a network of connections between disparate ideas, processes or objects; alluding to a nexus implies an infinite number of possible linkages and relations’. However, water, in the words of the WEF (2011, b), is the ‘gossamer’ strands that hold the web of resource use together. In other words, water is at the heart of the nexus. So, water resource use decisions—even if biased toward blue water (defined as flowing surface water and accessible groundwater)—should at minimum take into consideration the role and place of water across key sectors, especially energy and food (and vice versa). There is also a sense of urgency about the nexus: the FAO (2014) highlights that agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global water withdrawals and that food production accounts for 30 percent of global energy use, so linkages are already significant. Moreover, it is anticipated that the rising global population will require 60 percent more food by 2050, that energy demands will increase by 50 percent by 2035 and that irrigation itself will use 10 percent more water than it does now. Thus, it is imperative that management practices ‘get it right’ sooner rather than later (see, also, Leese and Meisch 2015: 698). A nexus approach, it is argued, will enable the crafting of better policy and practice. For Al-Saidi and Elagib (2017: 1137), the WEF nexus is a ‘new kind of environmental policy paradigm’, and the nexus focus has, in their estimation, been quite successful in changing policy debates.


  1. Allan, T. 2011. Virtual Water. London: I.B. Tauris & Co.Google Scholar
  2. Allan, T., M. Keulertz, and E. Woertz. 2015. The Water-Food-Energy Nexus: An Introduction to Nexus Concepts and Some Conceptual and Operational Problems. International Journal of Water Resources Development 31 (3): 301–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allouche, J., D. Middleton, and D. Gyawali. 2015. Technical Veil, Hidden Politics: Interrogating the Power Linkages behind the Nexus. Water Alternatives 8 (1): 610–626.Google Scholar
  4. Al-Saidi, M., and N.A. Elagib. 2017. Towards Understanding the Integrative Approach of the Water, Energy and Food Nexus. Science of the Total Environment 574: 1131–1139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benson, D., A.K. Gain, and J.J. Rouillard. 2015. Water Governance in Comparative Perspective: From IWRM to a ‘Nexus’ Approach? Water Alternatives 8 (1): 756–773.Google Scholar
  6. Conca, K. 2006. Governing Water. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. FAO. 2014. The Water-Energy-Food Nexus. Rome: FAO.Google Scholar
  8. Homer-Dixon, T. 1999. The Environment, Scarcity and Violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Kaplan, R. 1994. The Coming Anarchy. The Atlantic Monthly, February, 44–77.Google Scholar
  10. Leese, M., and S. Meisch. 2015. Securitising Sustainability? Questioning the ‘Water, Energy And Food-Security Nexus’. Water Alternatives 8 (1): 695–709.Google Scholar
  11. Mehta, L. 2001. The Manufacture of Popular Perceptions of Scarcity: Dams and Water-Related Narratives in Gujarat, India. World Development 29 (12): 2025–2041.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Middleton, J., D. Allouche, and S. Allen Gyawali. 2015. The Rise and Implications of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Southeast Asia Through an Environmental Justice Lens. Water Alternatives 8 (1): 627–654.Google Scholar
  13. Molle, F. 2008. Nirvana Concepts, Narratives and Policy Models: Insight from the Water Sector. Water Alternatives 1 (1): 131–156.Google Scholar
  14. Savenije, H.H.G. 2002. Why Water Is Not an Ordinary Economic Good, or Why the Girl Is Special. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 27: 741–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Swyngedouw, E. 2007. Technonatural Revolutions: The Scalar Politics of Franco’s Hydro-Social Dream for Spain, 1939–1975. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32: 9–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. World Economic Forum (WEF). 2009. The Bubble Is Close to Bursting: A Forecast of the Main Economic and Geopolitical Water Issues Likely to Arise in the World During the Next Two Decades, Draft paper for discussion at the World Economic Forum Meeting 2009. Geneva: World Economic Forum.Google Scholar
  17. World Economic Forum (Waughray, D. Ed). 2011a. Water Security: The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus. Washington: Island Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. World Economic Forum. 2011b. Global Risks 2011, Sixth Edition. World Economic Forum.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 2015. Global Risks 2015, Tenth Edition. World Economic Forum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Larry A. Swatuk
    • 1
  • Corrine Cash
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Environment Enterprise and DevelopmentUniversity of WaterlooAngtigonishCanada
  2. 2.Coady International InstituteSt. Francis Xavier UniversityAntigonishCanada

Personalised recommendations