The water-energy-food nexus of
By Dr Afreen Siddiqi
federal government has put energy security at the top of its
development agenda in its Vision 2025.
While energy certainly
needs prioritised attention, it should be integrated with
water and food security of the country.
Over the last few decades,
modern technologies in water, energy and agriculture have
created dependencies such that the three sectors have become
electricity in hydropower plants, cools thermal power and
nuclear power plants, and is used to mine coal and extract
oil and gas.
Energy is increasingly
being used to desalinate saline water and to distribute
water in urban piped networks.
Food production also
increasingly requires energy to pump groundwater and process
agricultural produce. Natural gas is consumed in
manufacturing nitrogen fertilisers that are used for
boosting crop production.
These interconnections, often
called the ‘water-energy-food nexus’, are increasing in
significance as demands grow with an exponentially
increasing population while resources remain constrained.
Failure to recognise and incorporate these issues in
infrastructure development decisions can lead to adverse
Recent events are sounding
alarm bells for decision-makers to take heed. In 2009,
France had to shut down one-third of its nuclear power
capacity located on inland rivers due to a heat wave that
caused disruptions in cooling.
In China, the water shortage
in its north has slowed development of coal-to-liquid
projects that are needed to meet the country’s energy
A number of corporations,
international agencies and governments are now engaged in a
scenario planning to consider the impacts of this
water-energy-food nexus on future operations and economic
While recognition of the interconnections is important at a
global level, information about local resources and
established infrastructure is needed for informing national
In Pakistan, water and energy
have traditionally been interlinked through hydropower
plants and large multipurpose dams. However, new
interactions have emerged between water, energy and
agriculture sectors that are poorly understood.
Crop production in the heartlands of Pakistan — served by a
massive network of canals — now increasingly relies on
energy consuming groundwater pumps to meet irrigation needs.
A million tube wells are reportedly installed in Punjab
alone, and energy use in pumping and farm operations may
account for up to one-fifth of the province’s energy
This link between energy,
irrigation water and agriculture needs to be investigated
with improved data collection and policy action.
The coal deposits of Thar in
Sindh promise energy supply on one hand, but will place
demands on water resources in the arid region on the other.
The new hydropower plants, currently under development in
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, will further enmesh energy and water.
For systems that are expected to function for decades to
come, the implications of water and of energy must be
evaluated if future water supplies in the Indus and its
tributaries get affected due to climate change or face
disruptions in flow across national boundaries.
The use of multipurpose dams should be assessed for the
economic tradeoffs that result between ensuring food
security (by prioritising supply for irrigation demands)
versus cheap hydroelectric power that is desperately needed
in the industrial and domestic sectors.
Managing each resource separately can lead to decisions that
seemingly improve supply in one sector, but in reality,
create problems in others.
If the linkages are incorporated in policy evaluation, then
unintended consequences may be avoided while multiple
problems may simultaneously get addressed.
Such integrated decision-making will require a combination
of three factors:
1) highest level of sustained political commitment of
providing long-term energy, water and food security for the
organisational linkages for information and knowledge
exchange, and for joint identification of synergistic
policies and plans;
3) collection of accurate and
Equitable and sustainable access to water, food and energy
forms the basis of a high quality of life for the citizens
of a new and prosperous Pakistan. It is time to put new ways
of thinking in place.
The Express Tribune