Making policies work


An adaptive and context-driven approach to the water, energy and food nexus


Alfonso Medinilla, ECDPM brief, September 2021

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Since its introduction in 2011, the concept of the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus has quickly taken off in EU external action and development cooperation policy. In a context of climate change and increasing demands on limited resources, the case and need for a more integrated management of water, energy and food security is clear. However, this is easier said than done. Implementing nexus approaches is notoriously difficult. It not only requires a more systemic approach to resource management, but also substantial reforms both in policy and practice.

This paper looks at the often under-studied political economy dynamics of cross-sectoral and cross-border integration, and examines how and why integrated policies often face implementation gaps. It argues for a more adaptive and context-driven approach to the WEF nexus, one that takes the nexus not as the outcome of a perfect masterplan, but as an iterative process of learning through addressing specific problems. This calls for two major changes in the thinking about the WEF nexus, namely (1) bridging technical and political approaches and their respective knowledge communities, and (2) adopting a non-linear, problem-driven approach to WEF nexus reforms and policy implementation. This paper issues a number of recommendations for donor agencies, institutions and the WEF nexus knowledge community to put this into practice.

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Photo courtesy of Nana Kofi Acquah for IMWI via Flickr.

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