Debating the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems Nexus in the MENA and wider Mediterranean, Beirut, 26-28 November 2018

Gathering more than 70 high level MENA representatives -from national and regional institutions involved in the sectors of water management, energy production, food and agriculture, and environmental protection, as well as financing institutions- the 1st Nexus Roundtable in the MENA and wider Mediterranean solidly contributed to the ongoing Dialogue processes in the Region for the incorporation of Water, Energy, Food and Ecosystems Nexus considerations in national and transboundary water resources management planning, including the link between the Nexus approach and vulnerable groups (women, youth, poor), and the enhancement of related capacities of MENA institutions and stakeholders.

The Roundtable was held on 26-28 November 2018, in Beirut, Lebanon, under the auspices of the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water and in partnership with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the United Nations Environment Programme / Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP MAP).

Organised by the Global Water Partnership - Mediterranean (GWP-Med), the Roundtable represents a solid example of working in synergy. Further to forming core part of the “Making Water Cooperation Happen in the Mediterranean” (Water Matchmaker) Project supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Roundtable was conducted in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) / UNEP MAP MedProgramme, the “Water, Climate and Development Programme” (WACDEP)  implemented by GWP, and the work of the UfM Water Agenda’s Nexus Task Force.

Over the course of three days, and through high level interventions, targeted presentations, panel exchanges and facilitated discussion, the participants of the Roundtable:

  • acknowledged that one of the major challenges our societies face is how to deliver water, energy and food for all in a sustainable and equitable way, while preserving the health of natural systems that form the basis of any economic activity;
  • widely accepted that interlinkages across water, energy and food systems are manifold and expected to intensify, especially in the MENA Region where water is increasingly scarce, food balance is in deficit, existing and potential energy sources are in need of further development, efficiencies in the use of resources are low, important ecosystems are increasingly threatened;
  • admitted that the fragile security in these resources is expected to be further threatened due to the impacts of climate change but also due to population growth and changing consumption patterns;
  • identified the special circumstances in the MENA region, its extreme challenges, and the importance of diplomacy and cooperation to overcome potential conflicts around water and energy;
  • shared valuable insights on the benefits, the options and the tools for adopting a Nexus approach, an integrated and efficient approach in the management of these resources and the relevant experience at the national and regional level; and
  • resolved that water needs to be viewed both as a problem and as a solution; although the connection among sectors is evident, there is a need to better understand that improvements in the individual sectors have cumulative positive impact on the nexus systems as well.

Some of the take away messages, as presented during the Roundtable’s closing session include the following:

  • Nexus is not a new discipline but rather a platform to connect separate disciplines. Although different understandings exist, a flexible and dynamic approach in both design and implementation sees the Nexus as a tetrahedron, which attributes equal weight to the four elements (water, energy, food, ecosystems), and also allows paying attention to the element with priority at any given moment;  
  • We need to move from sectoral conflicts to a consensus / compromise on trade-offs, including the assessment and identification of the most appropriate resource for the most appropriate use in the most appropriate location. Incentives for all players are needed to work together. In the end, behavioural change is needed, from consumers to policy makers;
  • The issue of virtual water and consequently that of food waste, should not be underestimated. In this regard optimisation of agricultural trade is a response in the context of a Nexus approach;
  • Economic costs should be assessed for the whole supply chain e.g. including water transportation costs and those of the necessary infrastructure;
  • There is a clear request for pilots, to show the value of the nexus approach in a tangible manner – need for results to make the case for upscaling and replicating;
  • Explore options for a platform at regional level to support the Nexus Dialogue with the involvement of actors and observers;
  • The Nexus approach is essentially about moving beyond the traditional sectoral thinking and adopting an integrated approach for the water-energy-food sectors, with a view to reconciling their interests as they compete for the same scarce resources, resolving conflicts while respecting environmental constraints as well as human rights and exploring emerging opportunities.

Overall the Roundtable:

  • shed further light on the Nexus framework both conceptually, and in terms of needed trade-offs and possible synergies, and as applied in the context of the Region, through the sharing of practices and lessons-learnt on policy frameworks, institutional coordination and financing experiences;
  • supported the dialogue process on and a deeper understanding of appropriate ways for streamlining integrated Nexus policies and measures;
  • explored how coordination among Nexus sectors and stakeholders at country and transboundary level can be enhanced, while aiming to effectively integrate gender, youth and employment objectives in the design and implementation of Nexus approaches; and
  • contributed to furthering the work of the partner programmes and processes, including the GEF/UNEP MAP Programme, WACDEP and the UfM Water Agenda, with emphasis on its Nexus thematic component.

The 2nd Nexus Roundtable is planned for the last quarter of 2019, most likely in Tunis, Tunisia.