Rethinking the Relationship Between Resources

ICIMOD research argues that a 'nexus approach' should be incorporated into future climate change adaptation strategies

As the effects of a changing climate start to become apparent in the Koshi basin and elsewhere in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, workable adaptation strategies are increasingly important for maintaining a healthy environment and sustaining rural livelihoods. However, not only is the Koshi basin a complex environment that covers a diverse range of landscapes across China, India, and Nepal, the population is also growing, putting stress on resources and land. Smart, innovative policies will be necessary as the region moves forward into the future.

In the spring of 2015, two ICIMOD researchers, who were supported in part by the Koshi Basin Programme, published a paper entitled “The nexus approach to water-energy-food security: an option for adaptation to climate change” emphasizing a new way to manage these future challenges. Published in Climate Policy journal, this paper advocated a “nexus approach” that linked together discussions about climate change and the interdependence of energy, food, and water. While in many cases in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region the need to adapt to future climatic scenarios is widely acknowledged, actual adaptation strategies remain much more blurry. The paper not only brought in a fresh perspective, but also suggested some feasible strategies for moving forward.

The paper not only brought in a fresh perspective for managing natural resources, but also suggested some feasible strategies for moving forward.

Future predictions for the Hindu Kush Himalayan region suggest that growing population pressure will also make it more difficult to grow food and access water. Crop yields in South Asia are expected to decrease up to 30% by 2050 if practices continue at the normal rate. Even today in the Koshi basin, water, a resource that was once abundant, is becoming increasingly scarce. This makes it challenging to grow rice and wheat, two crops that require large amounts of water. To add to this, in many contexts, these resources – food, energy, and water – directly affect each other. Producing more food strains water and energy, which will also be in higher demand as the population grows. While scientific research recognizes the relationship between these resources, this understanding is too rarely applied to future climatic scenarios, the paper argued.

Another problem is that current regional adaptation strategies for climate change usually give preference to one resource over another. For example, micro-irrigation technologies such as drip and sprinkler irrigation reduce water demand by increasing efficiency, but also increase energy demand. With this in mind, the paper proposed that future adaptation strategies focus on “win-win” solutions that work across all three resource sectors in ways that are compatible with each other and that minimize trade-offs. The paper laid out specific examples on ways to do this: among other things, farmers should switch to drought-tolerant crops, which increases food yield and decreases water demand, and communities should improve water management so that there is more water to meet water and energy demands.

This paper suggests new ways of approaching resource management and development plans in the coming years in national- and local-level planning. If successful in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, ICIMOD also hopes that the ideas presented in the paper can be applicable in other parts of the developing world that may face similar challenges in the years to come.