Traditionally, management and investment planning in the water, energy and agriculture/land use sectors has been dealt with in relative isolation, with separate strategies, priorities, infrastructure, and regulatory and institutional frameworks to address sector-specific challenges and demands. During the past decade, it is being increasingly recognized that in such a fragmented approach, attempting to achieve security in one of these sectors independently, without addressing trade-offs with the other sectors, may compromise overall sustainability and security, as well as the integrity of ecosystems.
An integrated Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems “Nexus” approach aims at co-optimizing different sectors’ objectives through reconciling the potentially conflicting interests of the different sectors as they compete for the same scarce resources, while capturing existing opportunities and exploring emerging ones.
The Nexus approach is of particular relevance to the sustainable development of the Drin basin, given the key importance of its hydropower plants, the significant forest and agricultural resources and the value of its ecosystems.
The Drin Basin is the focus of a Nexus Assessment process, divided in two Phases.
The process was initiated under the GEF-funded project “Enabling Transboundary Cooperation and Integrated Water Resources Management in the extended Drin River Basin” (the “Drin Project”), implemented by UNDP and managed by GWP-Med in cooperation with UNECE. The Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) for the Drin basin conducted under the Drin Project, included a “Thematic Report” on the water-food-energy-ecosystems Nexus, prepared in 2018-2019 with co-financing from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA). This Report is the outcome of Phase I and includes the identification and qualitative assessment of key Nexus-related issues in the Energy, Forestry and Agriculture sectors and demonstrates areas where improving cross-sectoral governance could have considerable benefits for all Riparians towards sustainable development.
A summary of the key findings of the Nexus Thematic Report is given below:
The Nexus Challenge
Hydropower is the most prominent renewable energy source in the Drin basin. There are many plants in operation along the Drin, while one of the Riparians, Albania, relies exclusively on hydropower to cover its energy needs. Being a flood prone region, a key Nexus issue in the Drin basin concerns the potential conflict of priorities between hydropower production and flood control considerations, when it comes to flow regulation. Operators, through the control of dams, play a crucial role in flow regulation and floods management; however, aiming at the maximization of electricity production from a purely sectoral perspective is typically at odds with flood mitigation requirements. How can energy production and flood risk be managed in a way that leads to increased energy security, as well as better flood control risk?
Towards greater energy and water security
It is crucial to involve the energy sector in basin management discussions to ensure that future energy policy is developed in conjunction with water resources management and planning. An integrated approach that accommodates both electricity production and flood mitigation, requires action with regard to policies and legislation, along with cooperation for dam cascades, between countries and among water and energy institutions, dam operators and authorities responsible for flood forecasting and flood emergency operations.
At the same time, hydropower operations and planning in the Drin Basin should be optimized not only within the basin’s boundaries, but also across the whole regional electricity system.
Elements to support the optimization of both flood management and energy production include:
- clear responsibilities and accountability, as well as lines of responsibility, authority and decision-making across relevant sectors and boundaries
- high-quality monitoring, sharing of information and transparent communications among all existing players (i.e. authorities with competencies in water management, flood protection and the environment, national monitoring systems, as well as dam operators) at transboundary level
- monitoring capacities at a level to ensure detailed, real-time information about conditions and risks
- information structured in a way that it is shareable and understandable by relevant authorities across sectors and borders, which requires agreement on standards and procedures
Read more about Hydropower and Flooding, in Chapter 6 of the Report
The Nexus Challenge
Biomass is a renewable energy source that is widely available and accessible in the region and its use is increasingly encouraged by policymakers. A key Nexus issue concerns the pressure of biomass production on forest management. When done unsustainably, it can produce adverse effects on water resources through erosion and sedimentation, and impacts the provision of ecosystem services of forests, including carbon storage and water filtering. Drivers that threaten sustainability of forest management include illegal or unplanned logging, premature cutting of trees, overlapping and conflicting responsibilities between central and local government and outdated regional forest data.
Protecting forests and water resources
The role of forests on the region’s economies is large and evolving and will remain at the center of development efforts, making it important to ensure sustainable forest management. Upgrading the value chain of wood biomass is a starting point in this direction, which would lead to direct benefits, including the preservation or restoration of ecosystems, increased erosion control and reduced flood risks, as well as conservation of major carbon sinks. This would also enhance employment opportunities in a sector where skills are already well developed.
A more holistic approach to forest management could better integrate forest-related activities and reconcile their different objectives that all too often remain in competition, building on complementarities in order to plan sustainable biomass production, and renewable energy in general, that is more streamlined in terms of procedures, more environmentally friendly and more beneficial for local economies.
Read more about Biomass and forest management, in Chapter 7 of the Report
The Nexus Challenge
Agriculture still supports the livelihoods of the majority of the basin’s rural population, but the sector is currently shrinking. Addressing the Nexus issue of water efficiency in agriculture, which ranks first in water consumption, is made more challenging by the sector’s stagnation, which restricts the potential to aaddress unsustainable farming practices through new investments. As regards official policy, while climate change adaptation is an explicit objective of the Riparian’s agricultural policies (along with sustainable resource management), national policy documents reflect the common perception that water is, and will remain, widely available. This is in contrast to the fact that the agricultural sector is already water stressed in some sub-basins during the summer months and will become even more vulnerable to droughts in the future.
Boosting the agricultural sector while reducing pressures on water resources
In order to avoid that the sector becomes more vulnerable or unsustainable, new developments, such as the intensification of production or expansion of irrigated land, must be properly planned as part of sustainable agricultural policies. There also needs to be greater clarity on future demands of water from agriculture, to help countries implement their climate adaptation plans and strategies, as well as river basin management plans, eventually also at the transboundary level. A greater commitment to regional cooperation and trade in agriculture, could also contribute towards an overall optimization of crops selection, as well as supporting high-quality and low-impact agricultural products for export.
Read more about Agriculture, irrigation and trade in Chapter 8 of the Report.
The Nexus Thematic Report is available here.