2017/03/11 Dresden, Germany
The decision to construct a dam to provide water services for urban dwellers may divert otherwise critical agricultural water supplies away from rural areas. On the other hand, changing land use from forests to crop land may result in higher rates of sediment transport down a water stream, improving soil fertility for downstream agricultural water users.
Decisions regarding construction of dams and land-cover/land-use regulations reflect priorities of government. The priorities are an expression of trade-offs – an important focus of the Nexus Approach. From a research standpoint, trade-off analysis helps us identify options whereby we can maximise benefits while ensuring that we use our limited resources sustainably.
From Robust Science to Practical Solutions
In a peer-reviewed publication, Mathew Kurian, Head of Capacity Development and Governance, addresses the trade-offs that impact nexus implementation strategies and thereby bigger issues of water, food, and energy security. Based on ongoing collaboration with UN-Habitat the publication demonstrates how robust science can contribute towards addressing pressing global problems such as water quality contamination, deforestation, or soil erosion. The journal article uses the example of the Wastewater Reuse Effectiveness Index (WREI) as a tool to bring decision makers and scientists together to examine Business As Usual (BAU) and future scenarios of resource use. WREI could potentially encourage wastewater use in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 6.3.
“By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”
– Target 6.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals
Reusing resources is a central dimension of the SDGs. The emphasis on reusing environmental resources is also an important nexus priority – resource reuse highlights interconnections between water, soil, and waste. The Nexus Approach underlines that in order for reuse to actually happen, trade-offs need to be addressed for reasons described above.
An Index to Holistically Capture the Wastewater Situation
To set the Nexus Approach in action, Kurian introduces WREI as a tool that translates scientific research into an evidence base that enables decision makers to act in support of advancing sustainable development. However, in contrast to typical wastewater indices, WREI goes beyond just biophysical indicators. Besides building upon the existing set of indicators covering domestic wastewater available in the United Nations system, it goes further by incorporating indicators that cover institutional and socioeconomic dimensions.
To operationalise this concept, the biophysical component index (BCI) is compared to the situation of the country with a given institutional and socioeconomic framework (ISEF). WREI extends the existing frameworks by analysing how effective countries are at using wastewater given their political, institutional, and socioeconomic environment. Altogether, WREI highlights trade-offs and implementation challenges in a holistic way.
Strengthening Bottom-Up Approach Towards Monitoring
The approach taken by WREI is in line with the SDG approach, which calls for robust data and bottom-up approaches to monitoring. This is a direct result of the critique of the preceding Millennium Development Goals (MDG); as a result of a top-down monitoring strategy there was no political buy-in by Member States.
By working with inputs from stakeholders at the national level (e.g., national governments and ministries in Indonesia), WREI incorporates a bottom-up, region-specific approach towards selecting indicators. At the same time, it is designed with enough flexibility to allow calibration for it to be adapted to other locations.
In line with the Memorandom of Understanding between UNU-FLORES and UN-Habitat, as a next step the former will identify countries willing to pilot test the WREI methodology. Capacity building and training needs that UNU-FLORES can support through online courses will also be identified. These activities are central to the activities of the Nexus Observatory project of UNU-FLORES.
Together with United Nations Programme on Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) and the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association (ACWUA), UNU-FLORES is organising a pilot testing and validation workshop on the monitoring methodology at the upcoming Arab Water Week in Amman, Jordan from 22–23 March.
Kurian, Mathew. 2017. “The Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Trade-Offs, Thresholds and Transdisciplinary Approaches to Sustainable Development”. In Environmental Science & Policy 68:97–106. (Available here)