Blog: All hands to the pump: nexus lessons and solutions from Bogotà

10 October 2013 | News story

Blog by Claire Warmenbol. As part of the ‘Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions’, I recently attended a workshop in Bogotà, Colombia – the second in a series of three regional workshops, jointly organised by IUCN and IWA.

Before I share some thoughts on this event, I should quickly remind you what the ‘Nexus’ is all about. The ‘Nexus’ refers to the intricate link between producing enough food, meeting growing energy needs, and ensuring sufficient water for people...and nature. My colleague Rebecca explains it well in this IUCN blog. Even though a recent Guardian blog rightly criticises the unappetising ‘Nexus’ word, it is nevertheless a useful denominator to summarise the inter-linkages and start tackling the issue.

So, the Bogotà meeting, another workshop you may think? Not so. What sets these Nexus workshops apart is that firstly, participants come from a wide variety of sectors. Hence, no preaching to the choir, but rather a colourful ensemble of participants with different company interests and agendas...but all with the same aspiration: keeping water flowing and healthy.

For example, a river basin manager found himself working out future water scenarios with a hydropower engineer from an electrical company and a farmers’ representative from a grassroots network. Had these people met before? Not necessarily. Yet they face the same issues and seek answers to similar questions: “What ways of operating dams sustain wetland fisheries?”, “What technologies make irrigation more efficient?”, “How are water trade-offs negotiated”, etc.

Secondly, the nexus workshops are more like visionary brainstorm sessions. No long speeches or extensive Powerpoint presentations. The engineer, farmer, corporate manager, basin expert, all work together solving water challenges, and through that, discover the concerns and solutions existing in other sectors, be it agriculture, energy, biodiversity... for some, an eye-opener.

Following a fictional basin exercise developed by the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, groups worked on nexus issues related to existing river basins such as the Magdalena in Colombia and the Paranaiba in Brazil. You only have to look at the Global Electricity Outlook to realise the unabated growth of energy and use of hydropower in those regions (and worldwide) to sit up and pay attention.

One of the lessons from the Bogotà workshop has shown that scale is important – the influence of different sectors may not be understood at different scales in river basin management approaches. Only through dialogue across the different sectors can these influences be identified jointly. The conventional approach has been to develop integrated water resource management plans, often in the absence of the sectors that have the most influence, such as energy and agriculture. Understanding this, and developing policy recommendations that address this, will be key in creating new pathways for the nexus.

You might wonder where all this may lead to? The Nexus Dialogue on Infrastructure Solutions will culminate in an International Conference on Water, Food and Energy, to take place in Beijing in 2014. Recommendations and solutions pooled from these workshops, as well as from the Nexus toolkit and research, will frame the conference agenda and aim to influence water infrastructure planning in the future.

For more information, please visit: www.waternexussolutions.org

A short video of the previous Nexus Workshop, which took place in Nairobi from 22-23 May (see blog 'The Realities of the Nexus'), shows the inside story of the workshop, including several interviews with participants: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpLoUvsYP6w