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The development of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Index and its application to the Southern African Development Community.

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This thesis commences with a review of the development and relevance of the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus as a framework for achieving resource security. Based on academic and grey literature it includes an assessment of what the WEF nexus is, a review of its novelty (or lack thereof), and describes the challenges associated with integrating and optimising the WEF nexus. The criticism that several WEF nexus conceptualisations neglect distributional justice is considered, followed by a reflection on governance aspects associated with the approach. Four short WEF nexus case studies illustrate nexus considerations. The research subsequently assesses the status quo of opinion within the WEF nexus fraternity. The approach is not yet a decade old, and several practitioners have called for a shift in focus from ‘nexus thinking’ to ‘nexus doing.’ Various research tools to support nexus action are presented. Next, a comprehensive WEF nexus case study that includes indicators and GIS-base maps is offered. The case study is the Mpumalanga Province in South Africa, which represents a melting pot for the WEF nexus. Within this province is a strategic water area, extensive coal mining for energy generation and a considerable portion of the nation’s high potential agricultural land. This nexus assessment yields a radar chart that represents a visualisation of six water-, energy- and food-related indicators. An anthropogenic WEF nexus framework is subsequently motivated and presented. This framework has been utilised to develop the core output of this research project, namely, the development of a country-level composite indicator that has been established for 170 nations. Following an assessment of 87 globally applicable water-, energy- and food-related indicators, 21 were selected to constitute the WEF Nexus Index. This index provides a quantitative perspective of this multi-centric lens for evaluating trade-offs necessary to achieve sustainable development. To this end, it can be utilised for assessing national progress relating to integrated resource management as well as supporting decision making and policy development. The relevance and usefulness of the outcomes are demonstrated through a detailed discourse of the findings for selected regions and countries. An extended analysis is provided for the Southern African Development Community (SADC). WEF nexus assessments in the decade leading up to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target year must be more comprehensive. Qualitative studies must be conducted in parallel with quantitative assessments. There is no one-size-fits-all method for integrated resource management utilising the WEF nexus. Instead, the approach must be tailored for each unique situation, and the WEF Nexus Index can be a catalyst and entry-point for such studies. By evaluating a subset of the SDGs, the index is complementary to the SDGs. The WEF Nexus Index is not a silver bullet that will solve all the significant development or environmental challenges facing humanity. This approach can, however, be added to the sustainability toolbox that is being utilised to engineer ‘the future we want’.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.