The STEPPING UP project is a collaboration between researchers at eight universities and research institutes across the UK to understand the interactions of water, energy and food (WEF), and how niche innovations across these systems could be built upon to deliver a STEP-change towards improving sustainability, in the context of a world responding to climate impacts and policies. This paper will present a synthesis existing modelling approaches for managing and understanding the water-energy-food nexus, and highlight key challenges and opportunities. Models of natural resource use and management in water-energy-food systems are becoming prolific and are based on many different paradigms/approaches. There are those that are process based and seek to explore the interdependencies amongst the biophysical components often through a specific water, energy or food security focus. Another emerging approach is the inclusion of disaggregated human decision making, targeted at most to dyadic interdependencies of the WEF, for the purpose of controlling and managing natural resources e.g water and energy. Decision making is complex, with the priorities of different stakeholders requiring consideration during the development of a decision support tool. There are limited models that can be used to understand the WEF, and its interaction and feedback with human decision makers. Of particular interest are the decision makers that produce, consume, manage and control resources at a range of scales. The paper will review the landscape of nexus models and tools from discipline perspectives. The challenges for nexus modelling and decision support tools will be presented and conclusions drawn on the most appropriate approaches for supporting decision making in the WEF Nexus.
An increasing global demand for food is occurring at the same time that water shortages and energy restrictions are escalating in many parts of the world. Much of the attention has focused on supply side factors that can produce more food with less water and energy (e.g., adopting more efficient technologies or increasing the land under cultivation). This strategy bias is based predominantly on a perception that food preferences and habits are relatively immutable and that technology alone will continue to solve our food, water and energy challenges. Similarly, conserving scarce water resources has focused primarily on reducing direct water use in homes or business, as opposed to examining food choices and waste that can actually have a greater impact on water resources.
A consumer’s personal water footprint is dominated by food-related activities that have direct and indirect energy requirements controlling the demand side factors for food. For example, consumers and retailers account for most of the food waste in industrialized nations. Conserving water and energy has been a sufficient incentive for some consumers to alter their food habits, but there is an increasing array of nutritional, financial and health reasons why more consumers may be willing to do so. From the perspective of conserving water and energy, reducing the consumption of animal-based foods, altering the ways that foods are accessed/produced and reducing food wastage are among the most relevant. Whereas the direct energy requirements of food are relatively small compared to the direct water requirements, the energy required to capture, transport and distribute water for agriculture is substantial in arid regions of the world.
Although numerous interrelated factors influence the water-energy-food nexus, many of these factors are either beyond the control of consumers or are perceived to be so. This presentation focuses on actions that can be realized by people in industrialized nations. As such, examples are drawn from regions of Europe, Asia and North America, where water shortages, rising energy costs and a shifting agricultural sector are prevalent. The data focus on both worldwide and local trends in comparing various policy alternatives that address the nexus and that are quantified on the basis of water footprints and other means of assessing the virtual exchange of water inherent in goods, services and energy uses. The effectiveness and the feasibility of implementing those policy alternatives are discussed.
The response to increasing strains on water resources from population growth, globalization, economic growth, urbanization, inequalities of and conflicts over shared transboundary resources, has led to an analysis of the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Nexus and its role in development approaches for communities. The FEW Nexus concept developed because these life-sustaining sources, food, energy, and water, are inextricably linked and constitute essential human rights. Using this as a framework, a more systematic analysis of interactions between human activities and their environment can be determined, with the purpose of working towards coordinated management on local, national and international levels. Addressing the FEW Nexus in an integrated approach is crucial in conflict zones with shared environmental resources. In arid zones especially, access and management of FEW resources can impact community development.
The FEW Nexus analyzes the relationship that these resources have with the economic, social, and political health of communities. In specific regions of the Middle East, the FEW Nexus is used as a conflict mitigation strategy in respect to transboundary environmental management and resource availability. The FEW issues faced by Israel and Palestine represent a unique opportunity to develop community-based methods, strategies, technologies, and innovative resource management models to increase community resilience and ensure the sustainability of FEW systems and the agricultural productivity in the region. Lessons learned in the Middle East can also be used in addressing challenges in other arid regions of the world.
The Solutions for Off-grid Food, Energy, Water (SOFEW) project, funded by USAID, imparted by the Center for Transboundary Water Management at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel, is implemented in the West Bank/Gaza Strip, addressing the need for conflict mitigation relating to transboundary environmental management. The project implements on-site, off-grid solutions for communities lacking access to water, wastewater and energy infrastructure. SOFEW aims to build relationships and trust among these communities surrounding collaborative approaches to FEW resource management, reducing environmental tension and conflict, in conditions where resources are transboundary and shared by communities across political borders.
The SOFEW program utilizes a step wise approach where a toolkit of appropriate FEW technologies will be assessed for each site and context. These technologies include greywater treatment and reuse; renewable energy, hydroponics micro-systems, and more. Including the community in the design process, a gradual, incremental approach will be taken to the installation of the components. After the installation, the impact on the community and environment will be assessed and only then additional interventions will be co-defined with the community. This gradual approach is innovative in its appreciation of the need to maintain open dialogue, establishing long-lasting relationships built on trust and integrity amongst all who are responsible for the sustainable development of the region’s fragile food, water, and energy resources.
This focus highlights the process of capacity building communities to manage FEW resources sustainably. It requires education and training of all stakeholders involved in resource management. Co-evolving practices are needed to develop synergy among stakeholders, including the political dimension of conflict mitigation through co-management and integration of FEW resources.