Integrated management of water, energy and land resources, while protecting ecosystems, remains a substantial challenge in the Western Balkans. The Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems (WEFE) Nexus approach offers solutions that can reconcile potentially conflicting interests as they compete for the same scarce resources, while capturing existing opportunities and exploring emerging ones. When successfully applied, Nexus solutions can lead to the enhancement of water, energy and food security, while preserving ecosystems and their functions, importantly also in transboundary river basins.
A range of cross-sectoral solutions, from infrastructure to integrated strategic planning frameworks, to address resource management tradeoffs were discussed on 26 May 2021, at the meeting on “Nexus Solutions and Investments in the Western Balkans”, co-organised by UNECE, Global Water Partnership Mediterranean (GWP-Med), and the European Investment Bank (EIB).
Some 50 participants analysed enabling conditions for impactful Nexus investments and explored the participatory identification of concrete Nexus applications in the Drin and Drina River Basins. According to the report “Solutions and investments in the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus: a synthesis of experiences in transboundary basins” presented by UNECE at the opening, transboundary cooperation ranks very high as a factor of success in the implementation of nexus solutions, along with shared data and information, increased awareness of options and benefits for cross-sector, transboundary trade-offs, compromise and synergies, and innovative infrastructure operating rules. River Basin Organizations can play a key role in facilitating a cross-sectoral dialogue that is needed to develop water investments and to develop “nexus proofed” master plans.
Concrete opportunities for cross-sectoral action in different fields were highlighted, including on: sediment and erosion control, renewable energy integration, agricultural policy, information and data management for planning and forecasting. The fact that countries in the Western Balkans share sectoral as well as cross-cutting agendas (e.g., on water end environment, energy transition, waste management, connectivity, mobility) offers a great opportunity to leverage synergies across sectors at the regional level. These efforts need to be scaled up to tackle region-wide issues such as decarbonization and environmental degradation.
The World Bank shared experience of implementing a cross-sectoral, transboundary program in the Sava and Drina basins, and the EIB facilitated a series of interventions from international organizations about strategic agendas for sustainable development (Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, for which an action plan is coordinated by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), the EU Danube Strategy, the Water Agenda of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)), the experience of developing cross-sectoral National Adaptation Plans for climate change (in Serbia), and opportunities to complement with nexus action at transboundary level water cooperation (Global Environment Facility International Waters program ).
With the support of the SEE Nexus Project, Project Documents for four Nexus “priority interventions” in the Western Balkans are to be prepared. Suggestions discussed during the Meeting included solutions in the fields of sustainable forest management, biomass, energy and climate, and agriculture.
The SEE Nexus Project (“Promoting the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in Southeastern Europe, through the use of the Nexus Approach”) is funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and is being implemented by Global Water Partnership-Mediterranean (GWP-Med) in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE),