Water, Energy, and Food Security Nexus

Water underpins all socio-economic activities. The availability and quality of water are paramount for environmental health, societal well-being and a thriving economy. Specifically, for a region such as Asia and the Pacific, where agriculture makes a significant contribution to economic growth, access to quality water resources is essential.

An adequate water supply is critical for food security and for sustaining agricultural communities that provide food for the worldís growing population. Water is used to irrigate crops and feed livestock. Groundwater, in particular, supplies significant amounts of water for agricultural production, especially in arid lands that do not have access to surface-water sources. Water is also used to process food; whether for removing soil particles from newly harvested vegetables or cleaning up after milking livestock, sanitation expectations require significant use of water.

Asia and the Pacific uses more water for agriculture than any other region of the world. At the same time, the regionís population has increased 30 per cent over a period of 25 years and will rise another 25 per cent by 2035. In a business-as-usual scenario, even more water will be needed to produce the additional food necessary to sustain the rapidly increasing population. By 2030, annual water demand for the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to increase by 55 per cent compared with 2005.The supply side of the food equation is being constrained by diminishing agricultural productivity gains, competing use of available land due to increasing urbanization and industrialization, biofuel production, global warming and water scarcity. Alternatively, the use of water must be made more efficient and sustainable in view of limited global, regional and national capacity.

It is clear that food production is impossible without water, and water cannot be distributed effectively for large-scale agricultural production without economic intervention that would allow for its effective and sustainable distribution. Thus, water affects food prices in particular and economic security in general. Food security and water availability issues are therefore inextricably linked, and their linkage must be sustainable at various levels of economic development. Water resources are among the most important factors driving the current changes in food security, affecting nations as well as local communities.

The high population growth rate in Asia and the Pacific, coupled with rising water pollution and scarcer water resources, creates a growing imbalance between soaring demand and uncertain supply not only in the food and water sectors but also in the energy sector. The regionís increasing population is straining the ecological systems that provide water for drinking, food production and other life-sustaining services. As a scarce water supply is a natural limit to the steady economic growth taking place in many parts of the region, the time has come for the region to place the water, energy and food nexus at the centre of economic development debates as it has long remained on the periphery.

Incorporating energy into the picture highlights the importance of water as a central part in the water, energy and food nexus. Hydropower is heavily reliant on water inflows and, hence, to precipitation and the upstream management of resources. The potential for hydropower is relatively strong in Asia and the Pacific compared to other regions of the world, with over 295,764 MW total installed capacity in 2008. It is expected that cumulative hydro installed capacity in Asia and the Pacific will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.92 per cent to reach 434,388 MW by the end of 2013. This technology in some instances cuts down the quantity of water available downstream, and has an impact on the quality of water upstream through siltation. Large hydropower installations can have a considerable impact on agriculture and food production through their effects on the quantity and the quality of water available upstream and downstream.

Water is not only relevant to hydropower energy production; it is also utilized in virtually all types of energy production. The extraction of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium requires water. Thermal power needs water for steam production and/or cooling. Silicon solar panels use water in production. In turn, groundwater abstraction, lifting and conveyance as well as desalination and wastewater treatment need energy. Energy production is the greatest industrial user of water, and increasing energy production necessitates increased access to freshwater. In that regard, the Asia-Pacific regionís energy demand is projected to increase by about 70 per cent by 2030.

To ensure sustainable and inclusive growth in the region, there is a need to integrate considerations for the management of water resources, sources of energy and food production. Energy security in the region therefore calls for sufficient availability of water resources, which, in turn, depends on rising amounts of affordable energy. Water and energy can no longer be considered separate challenges; even in fossil-fuelled or nuclear plants, cooling infrastructures require massive amounts of water resources. Extraction of raw materials, electricity delivery, and the transport of manufactured or food products are also water-consuming processes. When considering this nexus between water, energy and food security, an approach under the precepts of sustainable and inclusive growth can reconcile these three aspects if the proper strategies and policies are implemented.

With growing demand for food and energy as well as rising water supply uncertainty, ensuring water, energy and food security in Asia and the Pacific will require an integrated approach linking sustainable water management, and an intensification of agricultural productivity. When considering this nexus between water availability, energy production, and food security in order to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth, an economic approach under the precepts of IWRM can be implemented. Analysing the growing requirements of food and water will involve the promotion of an integrated approach with economic legitimacy and sustainability.

IWRM is a holistic approach promoting sustainability by considering surface water and groundwater in quantity and quality, the interaction of water with the environment and land, and the interrelationships with social and economic development. Therefore, viewpoints of governmental and stakeholder groups, factors of the human environment, and aspects of environmental natural water systems are considered in the planning and implementation process. Due to the complexity, IWRM follows a well coordinated interdisciplinary planning process, blending knowledge from law, engineering, ecology, limnology, finance, socio-economics, politics, ethnology, history, psychology, life sciences and many other fields.

Since water is an issue that cuts across economic and agricultural sectors, discussions on food security and water availability should include diverse stakeholder interests, including those from governments, private and public producers and consumers, professional associations, business and the private sector, regulators, governments, non-governmental organizations, scientists, the academic community, farmersí organizations, and society at large. These stakeholders need to form a collaborative partnership to assess, understand and share the costs, risks, results and impacts of investment in water

Source: E/ESCAP/CED(2)/5 Emerging and persistent issues in water resources
management. Note by the Secretariat

Selected bibliography

Monographs and brochures

Dukhovny V.A. - Water Resources Management in Central Asia Ė Achieving the Consensus between Water and Energy Sectors (2010) 

Halstead M., Kober T., van der Zwaan B. - Understanding the Energy-Water Nexus (2014) 

Maas A., Issayeva G., Ruttinger L., Umirbekov A. - Climate Change and Water-Energy-Agriculture Nexus in Central Asia (2012) 

Partnerships for improving water and energy access, efficiency and sustainability (2014) 

The Nexus of Food, Energy and Water (2013) 

The Climate-Cryosphere-Water Nexus in Central Asia (2019) 

Water, Energy and Climate Change. A contribution from the business community (2009) 

Water Security. Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus (2011) 


Guillaume J.H.A., Kummu M., Eisner S., Varis O. - Transferable Principles for Managing the Nexus: Lessons from Historical Global Water Modelling of Central Asia (2015) 

Jalilov Sh.-M., Varis O., Keskinen M. - Sharing Benefits in Transboundary Rivers: An Experimental Case Study of Central Asian Water-Energy-Agriculture Nexus (2015) 

Jones-Crank J.L,, Lu J., Orlove B. - Bridging the gap between the water-energy-food nexus and compound risks (2024) 

Libert B., Orolbaev E., Steklov Y. - Water and Energy Crisis in Central Asia (2009) 

Liu F., Li W., Wang X., Zhang Y., Ding Zh., Xu Y. - Water-Food Nexus System Management under Uncertainty through an Inexact Fuzzy Chance Constraint Programming Method (2024) 

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus at FAO (2014) 

Zhupankhan A., Tussupova K., Berndtsson R. - Could Changing Power Relationships Lead to Better Water Sharing in Central Asia? (2017) 


Confronting scarcity: Managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth (2012) 

E/ESCAP/CED(2)/5 Emerging and persistent issues in water resources management. Note by the Secretariat 

Energy and Water: The Vital Link for a Sustainable Future (2014) 

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2014: Water and Energy (2014)