Despite institutional and policy achievements, the region still faces numerous challenges to fully operationalize the WEF nexus as a conceptual framework and a discourse. Over and above the arguments already discussed, there are also a number of factors (technical, political, and social) delaying the adoption and application of the WEF nexus. Some of these factors include-

  • 1. National versus regional aspirations. There is little movement on the ground to show WEF nexus implementation as focus is either at the national level or at the basin/regional level. Although projections point to a stronger regional WEF integration, current progress is hindered by policy sections that allow countries to retain the right to develop and implement their own national plans without being obliged to conform to the regional master plan (Nhamo et al., 2018). For instance, some member states are delaying rectifying protocols on shared watercourses because they do not envisage the need at the moment. At the national level, political sovereignty is still strong, which affects genuine cooperation and integration. Regional cooperation in development programs does not remove national sovereignty but fosters integrated economic development and poverty alleviation. Despite this, there is little evidence of commitment by member states to implement the WEF nexus at a regional level. Although national focus may have positives, the shared nature of resources suggests that pulled investments may achieve a greater impact at a regional rather than national scale. Regional countries may also have problems of limited resources to engage and implement the WEF nexus when they might be having more pressing issues such as security consideration, stability, and internal displacement of populations;
  • 2. Political will. Despite a belief in the WEF nexus as a resource management tool, there could be low buy-in from member country politicians and technocrats. This is not surprising given that some member countries are yet to sign regional protocols on shared resources (Nhamo et al., 2018). Fatigue by member states to have to kowtow to ever-changing and shifting developmental paradigms; not so long ago it was IWRM, but now it is WEF nexus;
  • 3. Funding. Dependency on donor funding to implement the WEF nexus could be another limitation, given that donor funding always comes with operational complexities; and
  • 4. Availability of expertise and data. From a technical perspective, it could also be that there is limited technical expertise in the region on the WEF nexus. Lastly, problems associated with data and tools could be a limitation. Most of the tools and models for undertaking WEF nexus analyses were developed in the resources- and data-rich northern countries in Europe and the United States. The same cannot readily be said for the SADC region.


The primary goal for the SADC is to foster regional growth and integration which is premised on the realization that the SADC region is unified by a common history, culture, transboundary agreements, and shared natural resources as highlighted in the SADC treaty (SADC, 2011). At the country level, countries have similar goals on poverty alleviation, improving the quality of life for their inhabitants, economic development, and job creation. Regional countries also face similar challenges such as increasing population, increasing rural-urban migration, food insecurity, unemployment, and inequality. Water, energy, and food security are central to the region’s plans for sustainable economic development and transformation. It is in this regard that the WEF nexus offers significant opportunities for a coordinated approach to addressing regional challenges and achieving regional goals under climate change.

Research has proposed several climate change adaptation strategies for the region, which include (i) promoting climate smart agriculture, (ii) developing early warning systems (EWS), (iii) IWRM, (iv) promoting renewable energies with low carbon footprint, and (v) increasing monitoring and modeling capacities across each of the WEF sectors (Nzuma et al., 2010). However, these approaches are either water-, energy-, or food-centric and driven by the individual sectors. However, sectoral interventions in resources development risks causing maladaptation through creating imbalances. Based on the advances made thus far with the WEF nexus analytical framework the approach has potential to close the following gaps that slowed economic development and adaptation in the SADC region:

  • 1. The exclusion of policy makers and other stakeholders creates a large gap of knowledge between researchers and policy makers concerning the sustainable use of natural resources.
  • 2. For development of sound WEF nexus policies and acts, there is a need for sustainable resource planning and management beyond government departments through a central authority.
  • 3. Consequently, governance and joint compliance and enforcement structures are needed at local, provincial, and national levels.
  • 4. Interdisciplinary studies between water, energy, and food security are needed to address the knowledge gap, which is required for policy formation.
  • 7.6.1 The WEF Nexus Framework for Southern Africa

Figure 7.3 illustrates an idealistic SADC fit in WEF nexus conceptual framework showing the four fundamental WEF nexus components and their elements (action fields, finance, governance, and innovation). The proposed framework is an initial step toward the adoption and implementation of the WEF nexus at regional level considering similar challenges besetting regional countries as well as the shared resources within the transboundary river basins. The framework touches the issues

Regional water-energy-food (WEF) nexus framework for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). (From Nhamo, L„ et al., Water, 10, 18. 2018. With permission.)

FIGURE 7.3 Regional water-energy-food (WEF) nexus framework for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). (From Nhamo, L„ et al., Water, 10, 18. 2018. With permission.)

common in the region that include challenges and governance and provides the action fields to achieve the desired outcomes through the WEF nexus. The framework emphasizes the role that the WEF nexus could play in regional integration because the region’s resources are generally transboundary. The approach could be vital in poverty eradication and resilience building in the advent of climate change and could improve the livelihood of vulnerable people. The WEF nexus framework considers the following elements (Hoff, 2011; Mohtar and Daher, 2016):

  • 1. Strengthening policy and governance to manage the WEF nexus and provide political commitment.
  • 2. Cooperation and commitment by member countries in the implementation of the WEF nexus in shared resources for regional socioeconomic security and poverty eradication.
  • 3. Promotion of public awareness to develop a culture of regional integration and recognition of the role of broader and natural boundaries in regional socioeconomic security and improve the livelihoods of people.

4. Provision of scientific evidence and tools to identify trade-offs between nexus components and support the development of effective, integrative resource allocation strategies.

With the political, will (governance) regional WEF challenges (trends) can be solved by applying nexus assessment models on action plans to achieve desired outcomes (Figure 7.3).


The main challenge currently facing humankind is climate variability and change. In southern Africa, climate variability and change have a multiplier effect on already existing challenges linked to poverty, unemployment, and inequality. This then challenges the region’s agenda for inclusive and sustainable development aimed at delivering improved human well-being outcomes for its population. Addressing these challenges requires a systems and holistic approach. The WEF nexus framing draws on a holistic, systems perspectives that recognizes the value of coordinated approaches in resources development, use, and management. The WEF nexus offers opportunities for (i) simultaneous attainment of water, energy, and food securities, (ii) job creation and economic development, (iii) natural resource management, (iv) regional integration and climate change adaptation. However, despite these opportunities, significant challenges to its full-scale adoption and implementation exist. A way forward is to promote and initiate research that generates new data, develops useful metrics and models, and provides useful case studies for informing policy and building political will.


The authors would like to thank the Water Research Commission (WRC), the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) for supporting the WEF nexus initiative in southern Africa and South Africa and for the support in writing this book chapter.

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