Urban Environmental Management
The FEWW Nexus
Food - Energy - Water - Waste


rom an urban perspective, environmental management is a complex policy mix that requires the connection and coordination between a number of issues and the urban entities responsible for those issues. Nowhere is this more true than the nexus between food, energy, water and waste - four key resources that ultimately define Much of a city's lifestyles and consequent environmental problems.

This feature brings together the four themes under the FEWW Nexus that GDRC has been working on, in order to explore the interconnectedness and cross-cutting issues between them. Click on each of the four themes to explore the work done.

The thinking behind the FEWW nexus construct is straightforward - each of the four issues influence, and are influenced by, the other three issues.


The FEWW Nexus

Operationalizing concept of sustainability (or, for example, the SDGs) at the local level requires us to look at sustainable development - consumption and production - from a cyclical perspective. Ultimately, developing and implementing multi-stakeholder policies should help us achieve sustainability, targeting all aspects of our everyday lifestyles.

Nowhere is this more true, for example, than in the nexus between food, energy, water and waste - four key resources that help us define and better understand much of our daily lifestyles and consequent environmental, social and economic problems that they generate. These four issues are prime examples of problems the will help us in operationalizing a sustainable economy.

Cities and towns - human settlements in general - form the perfect laboratory for us to understand many of the consumption and production patterns that eventually result in the myriad of global environmental problems we face. Central to facilitating these systems are the economic management systems of food, energy, water and waste - each dependent on and influencing the others.

Besides the inherent interconnectedness between themselves, the four issues form the key starting points for a city's contribution to the global environmental problems that we are facing today - directly and indirectly: Climate change, biodiversity, desertification, et. al

Why is the FEWW Nexus important?

Exploring the interlinkages between the food, energy, water, and waste sectors, often referred to as the "FEWW nexus," is a critical approach for sustainable development and resource management. These sectors are intricately connected, and changes in one can have significant impacts on the others. Understanding and managing these interdependencies is crucial for addressing global challenges such as climate change, population growth, and resource scarcity. Here are some key reasons why the FEWW nexus is critical:

  1. Resource Interdependence:
    • Water and Agriculture: Agriculture is a major consumer of water. Changes in water availability directly affect food production.
    • Energy and Water: Energy production often requires significant water resources, such as in hydropower generation or cooling systems for thermal power plants.
    • Waste and Environment: Improper waste management can lead to water pollution and soil degradation, affecting both food production and water quality.
  2. Climate Change Impact:
    • Food Production and Climate: Climate change can impact crop yields and water availability, affecting food production and energy generation.
    • Energy and Climate Change: The energy sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, influencing climate patterns and water availability.
  3. Population Growth and Urbanization:
    • Increased Demand: Growing populations and urbanization lead to increased demands for food, energy, and water, putting stress on available resources.
    • Waste Generation: Rapid urbanization often results in increased waste generation, requiring effective waste management strategies.
  4. Security and Resilience:
    • Resource Security: Ensuring the availability and access to food, energy, and water is crucial for national security and social stability.
    • Resilience to Shocks: Interconnected systems provide resilience against shocks, as improvements in one sector can enhance the overall stability of the nexus.
  5. Policy and Governance:
    • Integrated Policies: Addressing challenges in the FEWW nexus requires integrated policies that consider the interdependencies between these sectors.
    • Governance Challenges: Effective governance is essential to manage these interlinkages, as policies in one sector may have unintended consequences in others.
  6. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
    • Alignment with SDGs: The FEWW nexus is closely linked to several Sustainable Development Goals, such as zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, and responsible consumption and production.

Examples: The FEWW Policy Approach

United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and Goal 13 (Climate Action), highlight the interconnectedness of food, energy, water, and waste. The SDGs provide a global framework for countries to integrate the FEWW nexus into their policies.

European Union's Horizon 2020 Project - "SIM4NEXUS":

The SIM4NEXUS project focuses on developing sustainable solutions by integrating the FEWW nexus into policy-making. It involves collaboration between multiple sectors and stakeholders to enhance resource efficiency and address the challenges of resource scarcity and environmental degradation.

Singapore's "Four National Taps" Strategy:

Singapore has implemented a strategy that integrates the FEWW nexus into its water management policies. The "Four National Taps" approach combines local catchment water, imported water, high-grade reclaimed water (NEWater), and desalinated water to ensure water security for the city-state.

The Nexus Approach in the Middle East:

Countries in the Middle East, facing challenges of water scarcity and energy demands, have adopted the nexus approach to integrate water, energy, and food policies. Initiatives focus on sustainable agriculture, efficient water use in energy production, and renewable energy development.

China's South-North Water Transfer Project:

China's South-North Water Transfer Project is a large-scale infrastructure initiative that integrates water management policies to address regional water scarcity. The project aims to transfer water from the water-rich south to the water-scarce north, considering the interlinkages between water, energy, and food production.

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus Platform in Africa:

Various initiatives in Africa, such as the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Platform, aim to integrate the FEWW nexus into regional and national policies. These initiatives recognize the importance of balancing competing demands for water, energy, and food resources for sustainable development.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas -
More than one million people are added to the world's cities each week, and by the year 2000 over a half of the total world population will be urban. This will put further pressure on existing food, energy water and waste systems in the world's cities.

With water and wastewater treatment plants running 24 hours a day, this can account for more than 30-40% of a local government's energy consumption.

GDRC calculated Tokyo's ecological footprint (the land area needed to obtain the resources required for everyday life). It turned out to be almost three times the land area of Japan as a whole!!

An important theme related to the FEWW issues is that of which GDRC covers in its Urban Environmental Management programme

What would be the role of different stakeholders in the FEWW Nexus? How can they ensure the security of the FEWW themes?