Submitted by Claire Warmenbol on Wed, 06/05/2013

By Claire Warmenbol of IUCN’s Global Water Programme.

Claire WarmenbolI will start this post with a confession. When I recently told my mother I was flying to Nairobi for a workshop on the Nexus Dialogue, I struggled to explain to her, in a jargon-free way, what this project is all about.

The truth was, the Nexus, amongst our many Water Programme projects, was still fuzzy to me. It all seemed so abstract, and frankly, not at all sexy. But it’s a crucial project, formally known as the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions, which started early this year in partnership with the International Water Association (IWA) and with funding from the US State Department.

So part of my plan whilst coordinating communications during the Nexus’ first regional workshop (which took place 28-29 May, see web story), was to listen, ask questions and gather stories. Stories are always the key, not only to explain complex topics, but also to bring messages home, make something memorable.

Ok, so what is this Nexus? You may have picked up the term already in the press, environmental literature or at lectures and meetings. The Cambridge dictionary defines Nexus as ‘an important connection between the parts of a system or a group of things’. It further illustrates this definition with the example: ‘Times Square is the nexus of the New York Subway’. I thought that was quite apt, particularly since we had an infographic designed on the Water-Energy-Food Nexus using the model of a subway system (see my colleague Rebecca Welling’s blog post).

Discussions at the Nairobi Nexus meetingBut still, really, what is meant with the Nexus? In real life? During the workshop, I found myself surrounded by the most interesting people with the most interesting stories. One of the participants was Salima Issa Lyimo from Tanzania’s Pangani Water Board, in charge of monitoring and allocating the river’s water to the different users in the basin. He sat next to me at lunchtime, whilst on my left was Jerry Goh, manager of Kili Flora, a large flower company in the Pangani basin employing hundreds of people in the region.

Growing flowers is of course a water intensive industry, with the availability of it a top priority for its business model. Salima and Jerry were discussing the challenges of water permit allocation, the need for additional energy so boreholes can be dug for groundwater, optimizing wells and irrigation systems to make them more water efficient, and improving the livelihoods of local communities. They all need water, and it’s in everyone’s interest that it is managed properly.

As other workshop participants joined our table, further questions were added, such as how much water can be extracted whilst leaving enough for nature’s services of filtering, cleaning, and leaving enough for biodiversity? How can businesses in the region continue to thrive whilst sharing water in a way that will not compromise other sectors? And how about the effects of climate change in the region, with the iconic Kilimanjaro’s rapidly melting ice cap? Those discussions are what the Nexus is all about.

But it is certainly not only a local issue. The Nexus is equally relevant at the international level. For example, I spoke with Joseph Magoshi from the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), a regional intergovernmental organisation that aims to pool electrical energy in a coordinated way to provide reliable electricity in the region. He explained how Kenya’s growing energy demands force the sector to expand and even import energy from neighbouring countries such as Uganda. Again, water plays a crucial role here. Over 60% of Kenya’s energy comes from hydropower, whilst the rest is mainly generated from geothermal sources tapped in the Rift Valley.

Due to the exhaustion of more hydropower potential, Joseph told me about future plans to explore nuclear energy in Kenya. Bearing in mind nuclear reactors are always built near water sources because they need large quantities of it to cool the waste heat discharge, nexus issues arise. One only has to look back into recent drought records to see how Kenya is already affected by reduced water availability. So how will water managers in Kenya cope with the current and future demands from energy managers, and what will be left for the country’s agricultural sector?

The nexus in real life in other words.

Stories, I got them, and plenty, and clear. The nexus came to life, and there was no doubt following the discussions that the links between water, food, and energy are forces to be reckoned with. As Mark Smith noted during the workshop “we cannot let this moment in time pass by without tapping into the wealth of knowledge and solutions that is out there. Learning from past experiences, including natural infrastructure and equity in the portfolio of solutions will greatly benefit plans for new, optimized and improved water infrastructures in the future”.

Agreed. Learning from past experiences and best practices, improving integration and collaboration, focusing on efficient, cost-effective and optimized infrastructures, and talking solutions is what the workshop was all about. And suddenly our project ‘Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions’ has become this great communications tool, an initiative where solutions are shared and discussed, stories told, partnerships forged, and innovation and ideas reign …certainly not fuzzy anymore, and yes, even almost sexy.

Find out more about the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions