Blog post by Susan Conlon, PhD Candidate at the Water Security Research Centre, School of International Development, University of East Anglia.
The ‘Is the nexus relevant on the ground?’ session at the Nexus, resource conflicts and social justice was very useful for a relative newcomer to nexus thinking like myself.
In this session, Jeremy Allouche offered alternative framings of the nexus – see blog post The nexus: a management system, policy process or a way of life? In the same session, Alma Lopez-Aviles (University of Surrey) and Christian Stein (IDS) offered insights into the nexus “on the ground”, both giving examples from their research in Ethiopia. These spoke to Jeremy’s way of life and policy process framings of the nexus, respectively.
There can be no doubt about the relevance of the nexus on the ground – of the link between energy, food and the economy – according to Alma. She questioned the potential contribution of dam construction, driven by nexus concerns, to improving livelihoods around Lake Tana, Ethiopia, but found opportunities in small reservoirs and micro-dam construction in apple and bamboo plantations – that can regulate seasonal flooding and prevent contamination. These kinds of projects help to make people aware of the rights as a stakeholder in integrated water management.
Cristian Stein looked at the dynamics of the organizations involved in irrigated sugarcane plantations. While he found that organizations were constructing their own interpretations of the nexus, he traced patterns in the discourses, which reflected the importance of interdependencies, the lack of integration and the focus on implementation of normative recommendations.
For Cristian, the nexus is about the negotiation of processes to find some common ground and locate interdependencies across institutions.
Having heard all three talks, I fear that in efforts to understand the nexus ‘on the ground’, there is the risk that yet another new vocabulary is introduced into local communities that serves to advance managerial approaches, albeit unintentionally, and distances people from their right to determine particular ways of life, whether or not these ways of life reflect nexus thinking, as defined by outside ‘experts’.
It remains to be seen whether the use of this terminology in the context of livelihoods, and the actions it produces, is enhancing local people’s wellbeing and rights.
About the author
Susan Conlon is a PhD Candidate in the School of International Development and part-time Coordinator of UEA’s Water Security Research Centre. Susan carried out ethnographic research with a campesino community in north-west Peru in 2014, an area where claims are being made that glacier retreat is already impacting water supplies. Her research explores how livelihood practices and choices are influenced by water security discourses and action, and how these discourses are shaped in turn by the language of climate change, adaptation and sustainability. Her interests lie in the paradoxes between what people say and do, which has particular import for understanding situated concerns and priorities in an area juggling socio-economic change with policy and institutional change in water management practices.