The Water-Energy-Food Nexus and COVID-19: Towards a Systematization of Impacts and Responses

The journal article, authored by DPIR Research Fellow in International Relations Hussam Hussein and Mohammad Al-Saidi, argues that there is a pressing need for a systemisation of the impacts of COVID-19 on water, energy and food security. It also explores the tangible impacts the pandemic has had, such as the increase in medical waste and some improvements in air quality and carbon emissions.



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., of trade, globalization, and aid).

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    Science of the Total Environment
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Dr Hussam Hussein is Departmental Lecturer and Research Fellow in International Relations