International Conference on Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Bonn

20 May

I am attending the International Conference on Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Bonn, Germany. This is being organized by the Global Water System’s project. It is an interesting conference in many ways – first, and perhaps most importantly, it brings together relevant people from all the three sectors and facilitates a dialogue among them and second, papers presented in this two day conference have been chosen with much care. My friend Anik Bhaduri, who is the Executive Officer of GWSP told me that only 23% or so of the total abstracts that were submitted were finally chosen, thereby ensuring high quality of the papers that are being presented today and tomorrow.

There was a parallel session this morning that I really liked and learnt a lot from. It was on hydropower—an area of our research interest. There were four papers in this session. Conference program is here and the session I refer to is A01.

The first was on power and politics of hydropower in Xayaburi project in Lower Mekong and was presented by Oliver Hensengerth of Northumbria University. While dam development in the Upper Mekong (China) has been happening for the last three decades or so, the onslaught of dam development in Lower Mekong is of somewhat recent origin and Xayaburi, in Loas PDR is the first of the 11 or so proposed dams to be actually constructed. In doing so, Laos PDR decided to eschew the route of financing through conventional western donors and also decided not to seek the consensus of the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Instead, this dam is being financed by private bank in Thailand. This, according to the author, has led to hydro-hegemony has left the regional organization of MRC in a limbo. He also termed the decision of Lao PDR to go ahead with this project as a decision influenced by the urban ‘elites’. That left me wondering why hydropower and promise of electricity could not be beneficial for the rural poor and I was told that all the power so generated will either to exported to Thailand, or go to the capital city of Vietianne. So, the basic issue is not of dam building per se, but it is of benefit sharing. This made me think of Nepal. I have been told by several people (but I need to double check this) that districts where dams in Nepal are located, are also given 24 hours of cheap electricity. That seems like a good model to me and I wondered if would Lao PDR not do something similar, given that their rural demand is likely to be very small indeed.

The next two papers were on hydropower and politics among Turkey, Syria and Iran over the Euphrates and Tigris (by Aysegul Kibaroglu of Okan University, Turkey) and between Turkey and Georgia over hydropower in river Coruh (by Waltina Scheumann of German Development Institute). Both papers were similar in that they talked about windows of opportunity that got taken up to solve issues that had otherwise eluded these nations for years, if not decades. For instance, Turkey and Syria seized an opportunity in 2000 (not clear how this opportunity arose, as I did not ask) and decided to build a joint dam on Asi/Orontos River. They also made sure that protocols were signed and work on the joint dam was in progress, but this has been halted since 2011 when the Syrian crisis broke. In the case of Turkey and Georgia, that window of opportunity presented itself in the form of signing Turkish Georgia cross border electricity trade agreement in May 2013. Signing of this agreement shifted the focus from areas of tension (impact of sediments on sand beaches in Georgia) to that of cooperation around revenues generated from electricity trade. Georgia is the net exporter of power and it gains sufficiently in the process to overlook its previous concerns regarding beach sedimentation. These two were clear cases of expanding the concept of water sharing to include benefit sharing. Again I thought of our region and I believe, a similar regional power trading agreement between India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh will go a long way in easing tensions that surround water sharing.

The final paper by Sussane Schmeier was on why certain river basins organizations (RBOs) do a better job on negotiations around hydropower than others. And the answer, quite intuitively, lay in the scope, the mission and the decision making powers and abilities of these RBOs. Overall, I found this session very interesting and useful, given our own interest in working on hydropower from a mountain perspective.

In another session, my colleague, Dr. Golam Rasul, Theme Leader of Livelihoods, presented our joint paper on the role of Himalayas in water-food-energy nexus. He highlighted the central role of the mountains in regulating so many of the services (water, energy, ecosystems to name a few) that are valued downstream and pointed out how mountains are missing from the nexus discussions. I thought he did a good job in getting across the message to the audience that mountains are important and any nexus dialogue has to include the voices of the mountain people.

Papers aside, what I like best about this conference is that I got to meet so many of my water colleagues. It is such a treat to meet old friend and colleagues and to reminiscence of times spent together. My presentation on managing the water energy and food nexus in India is today. I will talk how different states in India have gone about differently in managing this nexus. Looks like I had blogged on this last year here.


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