Mitigating risks and vulnerabilities in the energy-food-water nexus in developing countries


In an increasingly resource-constrained world, the energy-food-water ‘nexus’ – the interconnections among these three systems that are vital for human survival – has become central to the discourse on sustainable development. Treating each system independently risks underestimating their critical linkages and vulnerabilities, possibly leading to the formulation and implementation of ineffectual or even counterproductive policies and measures.

This research report, commissioned and funded by the UK Department for International Development, aims to contribute to this emerging nexus field of enquiry, with a particular emphasis on developing countries in the Global South. The overarching aims of the study are to:

  • understand the dynamic interactions occurring among energy, food and water systems with a view to identifying the key vulnerabilities and risks facing developing countries in terms of food, energy and water security;
  • inform planning and policy in developing countries to mitigate these risks and to promote efficiency, equity and environmental sustainability in food, energy and water provision to their citizens via a transition to more sustainable and resilient systems.

The three major research questions are as follows:

  • What are the key issues, including global and national drivers, which we might see in the coming 5 to 10 years, in the linkages between energy and water use and food security in developing countries?
  • What are the main risks and vulnerabilities faced by different types of developing countries with regard to the energy-food-water nexus?
  • What strategies, policies and measures can governments in developing countries adopt to reduce energy-related risks to food security and to make energy-food-water systems more resilient and sustainable?

The report is structured in three major parts, each of which addresses one of the three principal research questions stated above.

  • Part 1 scopes the most pertinent issues and drivers for developing countries in the energy-food-water nexus. It begins with a global level analysis and then focuses on three case studies, each of which delves into greater detail for a certain type of socio-ecological system, based on metabolic flow characteristics.
  • Part 2 provides a qualitative assessment of nexus-related risks and vulnerabilities facing developing countries, and presents and analyses empirical data on energy, food and water security indicators for a selection of developing nations.
  • Part 3 draws out generic policy recommendations from the case study typologies as far as possible, recognising that each region and country has its own distinctive characteristics and circumstances that may affect the way in which the energy-food-water nexus plays out in that particular context.

The final section presents the main conclusions and identifies scope for research topics that could be investigated in greater detail.


Wakeford, J.; Kelly, C.; Mentz Lagrange, S. Mitigating risks and vulnerabilities in the energy-food-water nexus in developing countries. Sustainability Institute, Stellenbosch, South Africa (2015) 286 pp.

Mitigating risks and vulnerabilities in the energy-food-water nexus in developing countries

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