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Water and Energy Nexus: Ethical and Governance Outlook for the Caribbean

March 04 2019 - by Mark Codling, Resilience/Disaster Risk and Geospatial Information Researcher & an Alum of CLP's Leadership Development Programme

What is the Water and Energy Nexus?

Approximately 2.8 billion persons across the globe, especially in developing countries reside in highly “water-stressed areas,” and another 1.3 billion people have limited access to electricity. The necessity for water and energy gives rise to increasing demand from a rapidly growing population. Most electric utility companies in developing regions are confronted with scarce water resources for energy production. Energy production requires large volumes of water. Likewise, water supplies are dependent on energy for treatment and transportation. Often in developing countries, governments treat water and energy policies separately in achieving sustainable development. The sustainable use of water and energy should be in a connected state. This holistic approach is described as the water-energy nexus.  Water is interdependent on energy as illustrated in figure 1 below.



Figure 1: The Relationship between the Water and Energy Nexus. Source: VI World Water Forum

Water-Energy Nexus Challenges in Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Sustainable development in most Small Island Developing States SIDS is benchmarked on poverty alleviation and strong economic growth through efficient and sustainable use of water and energy resources. The United Nation’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in September 2011 launched a global initiative on Sustainable Energy for all where he shared his outlook for increased improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. Governments and the private sector in most developing countries supported this initiative. Therefore, as it relates to achieving sustainable development through the efficient use of resources, it is essential to consider the issues of the water-energy nexus that lies ahead in developing countries (World Water Forum, 2012).

The Caribbean region faces parallel water and energy security challenges like in the Asian Pacific and sub-Saharan African regions. These regions share similar diverse socio-economic, political and environmental settings. These settings limit the provision of cheap energy and clean water to a growing population. The population in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to increase by 40% in 2050 (World Water Forum, 2012). In this context, the Caribbean’s most socially vulnerable will have limited access to already inadequate water and energy resources. Given the ethical issues and challenges of the water-energy nexus, it is crucial that governments examine the challenges of achieving a sustainable water-energy nexus in the Caribbean.

Strategies to Address the Water-Energy Nexus Ethical Issues in the Caribbean Region

  1. Given that water is an essential medium for the livelihood of humanity. The rights of a human to water can conflict with the conservation of the commodity. The Caribbean region’s culture and lifestyle must change to accommodate the water-energy nexus. The agreement of stakeholders on any major water initiative is essential. There is a strong relationship with water governance and socio-economic and environmental issues. The complexity of stakeholder’s interest (energy providers, government, the public, and environmentalists) can be improved through governance. The water and energy ethics should be built on a resilient institutional agreement established amongst stakeholders (government, environmental groups, the private sector, and socially vulnerable groups.
  2. The means of alternative energy should be pursued. New doors of innovation in renewables energy are required. It is crucial for the government to develop strategies for a green economy and green jobs. The long term solution is renewable energy. The effective management of our demand and supply of water is imperative. The Caribbean is confronted with the imminent dangers of overuse of groundwater Understanding the interaction of water and energy allows for efficient use of both resources. Therefore, it is essential to consider the recycling of water. The source of water production has to be tackled in such a manner that energy cost is minimized.

While we expect governments in the region to focus on increasing economic growth, this in turn, creates a higher demand in both the water and energy sectors. Therefore, our policymakers, government leaders, and the private sector must seek to address the following considerations;   

  1. Is the Caribbean population ready to adjust its culture and lifestyle to accommodate the water-energy nexus?
  2. Are there any policies that address the relationship between the socio-economic and environmental issues that come at the heels of the water and energy nexus?
  3. Is there any institutional mechanism for the sharing of water resources?