Poverty and the water-energy nexus

Saturday March 22nd is World Water Day, and the focus this year is on the interconnectedness between water and energy. We all know that water is the lifeblood of our earth, but without massive inputs of energy to distribute it, clean it, and store it, modern civilization would not exist. Equally, without equally enormous inputs of water, much of modern energy production would not be possible. We all know water can generate energy through hydro-electric stations, and anyone who passes the huge, steaming cooling towers of a power station is reminded how much water is required to generate electricity from many other sources. These are the types of interconnections which have dominated discussions about the “water energy nexus” thus far, and while globally relevant, they do not tell the whole story: the vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries where other key issues surrounding water and energy dominate their lives, but have not been a priority for the international community.

The current situation in Turkana provides a stark illustration of these issues. Turkana scoop hole

Some of the issues we think deserve to be highlighted on World Water Day include:

  1. The supply of energy and water is irrelevant if it remains inaccessible: Just because supplies increase or are used more efficiently does not mean more people will be reached. In much of the developing world, centralized energy grids are incapable of servicing the vast, decentralized rural populations, leaving many without access to energy or the live-giving clean water that rests under their feet. The terrible situation currently unfolding in the Turkana district in Kenya is a case in point. Pastoralist communities are facing another horrific drought despite that vast water resources exist under their land – yet residents of the area remain impoverished and are now facing a potential humanitarian crisis. Interestingly, in the same region, large oil reserves were also recently discovered.The message for World Water Day and decision-makers around the world is that most of the world is still lacking decent access to both adequate amounts of reliable energy and clean water. Future investments in these two things must reflect that big power plants and other big infrastructure are not feasible or economical for servicing much of the currently under- and un-serviced global population. However, decentralised solutions for decentralised populations and resources are both available and affordable. Let’s concentrate on rolling them out sooner rather than later.
  2. People do not need any technology, they need the appropriate technology: Some poor people live in deserts, some in rainforests. Some people live on sun-drenched islands while others live on foggy mountainsides. We all have different resources available to us but all need water and energy for our survival. At local, national and international levels, increasing demands on limited water and energy resources are increasingly the source of difficult choices and even the cause of conflict. However, decentralised solutions can offer greater opportunities for win-win solutions to these problems. For example, solar water pumping is helping people survive in Turkana and helping build livelihoods for poor farmers in Zimbabwe. Channelling water for micro-hydro schemes can offer the potential for irrigation. We would like to see more attention to these opportunities now, before resource constraints have the chance to escalate into full-blown crises.turkana1
  3. Women and men have different needs and are impacted differently by the energy water nexus: on Choices about how water or energy is made available and paid for impact men and women in very different ways given their differing household roles and responsibilities. For instance, for millions of girls and women around the world, daily water collection can take hours of difficult work. Where women’s issues are not explicitly incorporated into energy and water planning, their needs will continue to be undermined.
  4. Water and energy are at the heart of sustainable development. Water and energy should feature prominently in discussions over the post-2015 development framework, with the connections relevant to different socio-economic and geographic contexts adequately recognised. At the same time, if they are to be used for the benefit of everyone in a country, including the poor and currently excluded, civil society needs to have a voice in decision-making and recognition of their role in delivering for the poorest. Otherwise we will end up with the same top-down infrastructure planning we have always had. And that is not going to steer us away from the ‘business as usual’ path that experts predict will see as many people living in energy poverty in 2030 as there are today.

2 responses to “Poverty and the water-energy nexus”

  1. polycarp masila Says:

    Hi guys,
    I must start by congratulating you so much on what you are doing to our poor people in arid areas.water is everything in ones life so with the kind of projects you are initiating God bless you.
    Now,have been trying to gets some assistanse as we are also having the same problem in our county of water.Am from MAKUENI-KATHONZWENI KITEEI which is also very dry and rains insulfitient for people to move on with any development.for now am looking foreward to get a grant or sponsorship to start a irrigation farm in our area but am getting challaleges as most of the donors are for groups and societies.How do you think you can help me guys.thanks

  2. Rodica Says:

    I have a reverse oosisms water purifier under the kitchen sink. The filters need to be replaced every six months. I absolutely love it. I don’t think health conscious Americans drink out of the tap any more. According to the Environmental Working Group, my city has the #9 worst tap water in America!!exile

Leave a reply