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The water-energy-food nexus and COVID-19: Towards a systematization of impacts and responses

, Hussam Hussein
Published: 20 July 2021
Science of The Total Environment , Volume 779; doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146529

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to examine the impacts of system-wide crises on key supply sectors such as water, energy and food. These sectors are becoming increasingly interlinked in environmental policy-making and with regard to achieving supply security. There is a pressing need for a systematization of impacts and responses beyond individual disruptions. This paper provides a holistic assessment of the implications of COVID-19 on the water–energy–food (WEF) nexus. First, it integrates the academic literature related to single cases and disruptions to provide a broader view of COVID-19 demand- and supply-side disruptions and immediate effects. Then, the major, long-term impact categories of medicalization/hygienization, (re)localization of production, and demand fluctuations are highlighted. These impacts result in priority cross-links such as irrigation, energy requirements for local food production, energy use for water and wastewater treatment, or water for energy use. Finally, sector-level insights on impacts and responses are provided, drawing from illustrative cases. The analysis of impacts of COVID-19 on the WEF nexus reflects heterogeneous experiences of short-term adaptations, and highlights the revaluation of the water–food–trade nexus. Revived debates on food sufficiency can benefit from green applications to minimize expected trade-offs. The current crisis also reveals some gaps in the WEF nexus debates with regard to the lack of risk-based perspectives and the need for a better consideration of spatial aspects in resource integration. Regarding resource-security issues in the WEF nexus, the COVID-19 stress test boosts debates concerning the adequacy of the production value chains (e.g., contingency and storage, diversification, and self-sufficiency) and the value of cross-border integration (e.g., trade, globalization, and aid).
Keywords: Environmental security / WEF nexus / Sustainable development / Basic supply infrastructure / Food security / Middle East

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