In southern Africa, the connections between climate and the water–energy–food nexus are strong. Physical and socioeconomic exposure to climate is high in many areas and in crucial economic sectors. Spatial interdependence is also high, driven, for example, by the regional extent of many climate anomalies and river basins and aquifers that span national boundaries. There is now strong evidence of the effects of individual climate anomalies, but associations between national rainfall and gross domestic product and crop production remain relatively weak. The majority of climate models project decreases in annual precipitation for southern Africa, typically by as much as 20% by the 2080s. Impact models suggest these changes would propagate into reduced water availability and crop yields. Recognition of spatial and sectoral interdependencies should inform policies, institutions and investments for enhancing water, energy and food security. Three key political and economic instruments could be strengthened for this purpose: the Southern African Development Community, the Southern African Power Pool and trade of agricultural products amounting to significant transfers of embedded water.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $17.75 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Vörösmarty, C. J., Douglas, E. M., Green, P. A. & Revenga, C. Geospatial indicators of emerging water stress: An application to Africa. Ambio 34, 230–236 (2005).
SADC Statistics Yearbook 2011 (SADC, 2012); http://www.sadc.int/information-services/sadc-statistics/sadc-statiyearbook/#Population
Jury, M. J. Economic impacts of climate variability in South Africa. J. Appl. Meteorol. Climatol. 41, 46–55 (2002).
Thurlow, J., Diao, X. & Zhu, T. Current climate variability and future climate change: Estimated growth and poverty impacts for Zambia. Rev. Dev. Econ. 16, 394–411 (2012).
Ellis, J. in Living with Uncertainty (ed. Scoones, I.) 37–46 (International Institute for Environment and Development, 1995).
Lankford, B. & Beale, T. Equilibrium and non-equilibrium theories of sustainable water resources management: Dynamic river basin and irrigation behaviour in Tanzania. Glob. Environ. Change 17, 168–180 (2007).
Sarch, M. T. & Allison, E. H. in Proc. Microbehavior, Macroresults and Externalities: Conceptual Issues 1–10 (IIFET, 2000); http://oregonstate.edu/dept/IIFET/2000/papers/sarch.pdf
O'Brien, K. & Vogel, C. Coping with Climate Variability: The use of Seasonal Climate Forecasts in Southern Africa (Ashgate, 2003).
Ziervogel, G., Johnston, P., Matthew, M. & Mukheiber, P. Using climate information for supporting climate change adaptation in water resource management in South Africa. Clim. Change 103, 537–554 (2010).
IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Hoff, H. Understanding the nexus: Background Paper for the Bonn2011 Conference: The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus. (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2011).
Bazillian, M. et al. Considering the energy, water and food nexus: Towards an integrated modelling approach. Energ. Policy 39, 7896–7906 (2012).
Bartram, J. & Dodds, F. (eds) Building Integrated Approaches into the Sustainable Development Goals (Univ. North Carolina, 2014).
Global Risks 2011 6th edn (World Economic Forum, 2011).
Hepworth, N. & Orr, S. in Water Security: Principles, Perspectives and Practices (eds Lankford, B. A., Bakker, K., Zeitoun, M. & Conway, D.) 220–238 (Earthscan, 2013).
Wales, A. Making sustainable beer. Nature Clim. Change 4, 316–318 (2014).
Gerbens-Leenes, P. W., Van Lienden, A. R., Hoekstra, A. Y. & van der Meer, T. H. Biofuel scenarios in a water perspective: The global blue and green water footprint of road transport in 2030. Glob. Environ. Change 22, 764–775 (2012).
Ringler, C., Bhaduri, A. & Lawford, R. The nexus across water, energy, land and food (WELF): Potential for improved resource use efficiency? Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 5, 617–624 (2013).
Howells, M. et al. Integrated analysis of climate change, land-use, energy and water strategies. Nature Clim. Change 3, 621–626 (2013).
Peronne, D. & Hamburger, G. M. Water, food, and energy security: Scrambling for resources or solutions? WIREs Water 1, 49–68 (2014).
Prasad, G. Energy, Water and Climate Change in Southern Africa: What Are the Issues That Need Further Investment and Research? (Energy Research Centre, Univ. Cape Town, 2012).
OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2013 (OECD, 2013); http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/South%20Africa%202013%20Overview%20FINAL.pdf
Prasad, G., Stone, A., Hughes, A. & Stewart, T. in Towards Carnegie III Conf. (Univ. Cape Town, 2012); https://www.environment.gov.za/sites/default/files/docs/towardsthedevelopment_energywaterfoodsecurity.pdf
Martin, B. & Fischer, R. The Energy-Water Nexus: Energy Demands on Water Resources Report 5 (EMG Water and Climate Change Research Series, Environmental Monitoring Group, 2012).
Sparks, D. et al. Renewable energy choices and their water requirements in South Africa. J. Energy South. Afr. 25, 80–92 (2014).
Raskin, P., Gleick, P. Kirshen, P., Pontius, G. & Strzepek, K. in Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World (Stockholm Environment Institute,1997).
Savenije, H. H. Water scarcity indicators: The deception of the numbers. Phys. Chem. Earth 25, 199–204 (2000).
Mason, N. in Water Security: Principles, Perspectives and Practices (eds Lankford, B. A., Bakker, K., Zeitoun, M. & Conway, D.) 183–203 (Earthscan, 2013).
Misselhorn, A. A. What drives food insecurity in southern Africa? A meta-analysis of household economy studies. Glob. Environ. Change 15, 33–43 (2005).
Ellis, F. & Manda, E. Seasonal food crises and policy responses: A narrative account of three food security crises in Malawi. World Dev. 40, 1407–1417 (2012).
Peel, M. C., McMahon, T. A. & Finlayson, B. L. Continental differences in the variability of annual runoff: Update and reassessment. J. Hydrol. 295, 185–197 (2004).
Conway, D. et al. Rainfall and water resources variability in sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century. J. Hydrometeorol. 10, 41–59 (2009).
Kane, R. P. Periodicities, ENSO effects and trends of some South African rainfall series: An update. S. Afr. J. Sci. 105, 199–207 (2009).
Barrios, S., Ouattara, B. & Strobl, E. The impact of climatic change on agricultural production: Is it different for Africa? Food Policy 33, 287–298 (2008).
Brown, C. et al. Hydroclimate risk to economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Clim. Change 106, 621–647 (2011).
Nyatsanza, F. F., Graas, S. & Zaag, P. The impact of dynamic environmental flow releases on hydropower production in the Zambezi River Basin. J. Am. Water Resour. As. 51, 1029–1042 (2015).
Scott, A., Darko, E., Lemma, A. & Rud, J. P. How Does Electricity Insecurity Affect Businesses in Low and Middle Income Countries? (Overseas Development Institute, 2014).
Beilfuss, R. A Risky Climate for Southern African Hydro: Assessing Hydrological Risks and Consequences for Zambezi River Basin Dams (International Rivers, 2012).
Noel, S. The Economics of Climate Change: Tanzania Water Resources (Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI-Africa Centre and Institute of Resource Assessment, Univ. Dar es Salaam).
Landman, W. A., DeWitt, D., Lee, D. E., Beraki, A. & Lötter, D. Seasonal rainfall prediction skill over South Africa: One- versus two-tiered forecasting systems. Weather Forecast. 27, 489–501 (2012).
Landman, W. A. & Beraki, A. Multi-model forecast skill for mid-summer rainfall over southern Africa. Int. J. Climatol. 32, 303–314 (2012).
Limpopo River Awareness Kit (Limpopo Watercourse Commission, 2011); www.limpoporak.org
Chilundo, M., Kelderman, P. & O'Keeffe, J. H. O. Design of a water quality monitoring network for the Limpopo River Basin in Mozambique. Phys. Chem. Earth 33, 655–665 (2008).
Hansen, J. W., Mason, S. J., Liqiang, S. & Tall, A. Review of seasonal climate forecasting for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Expl. Agric. 47, 205–240 (2011).
Manatsa, D., Unganai, L., Gadzirai, C. & Behera, S. K. An innovative tailored seasonal rainfall forecasting production in Zimbabwe. Nat. Hazards 64, 1187–1207 (2012).
Shongwe, M. E. et al. Projected changes in mean and extreme precipitation in Africa under global warming. Part I: southern Africa. J. Climate 22, 3819–3837 (2009).
Zinyengere, N., Crespo, O. & Hachigonta, S. Crop response to climate change in southern Africa: A comprehensive review. Glob. Planet. Change 111, 118–126 (2013).
Lobell, D. B. et al. Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science 319, 607–610 (2008).
Rosenzweig, C. et al. Assessing agricultural risks of climate change in the 21st century in a global gridded crop model intercomparison. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3268–3273 (2014).
Schewe, J. et al. Multimodel assessment of water scarcity under climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3245–3250 (2014).
Fant, C., Gebretsadik, Y. & Strzepek, K. Impact of Climate Change on Crops, Irrigation and Hydropower in the Zambezi River Basin Working Paper 2013/039 (World Institute for Development Economics Research, 2013).
Hertel, T. W., Burke, M. B. & Lobell, D. B. The poverty implications of climate-induced crop yield changes by 2030. Glob. Environ. Change 20, 577–585 (2010).
Ahmed, S. A., Diffenbaugh, N. S. & Hertel, T. W. Climate volatility deepens poverty vulnerability in developing countries. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 034004 (2009).
Calzadilla, A., Zhu, T., Rehdanza, K., Tol, R. S. J. & Ringler, C. Climate change and agriculture: Impacts and adaptation options in South Africa. Wat. Resour. Econ. 5, 24–48 (2014).
Arndt, C., Schlosser, A., Strzepek, K. & Thurlow, J. Climate change and economic growth prospects for Malawi: An uncertainty approach. J. Afr. Econ. 23, 83–107 (2014).
The Economics of Adaptation to Future Climates in South Africa: An Integrated Biophysical and Economic Analysis Report No. 6 (Long Term Adaptation Scenarios Flagship Research Program, South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014).
Alton, T. et al. Introducing carbon taxes in South Africa. Appl. Energ. 116, 344–354 (2014).
Devarajan S., Go, D. S., Robinson, S. & Thierfelder, K. Tax policy to reduce carbon emissions in a distorted economy: Illustrations from a South Africa CGE model. B. E. J. Econ. Anal. Poli. 11, 1–22 (2011).
Arndt, C. et al. An Integrated Approach to Modeling Energy Policy in South Africa: Evaluating Carbon Taxes and Electricity Import Restrictions (World Institute for Development Economics Research, 2014).
Eskom Integrated Report for the Year Ended 31 March 2013 (Eskom, 2013); http://overendstudio.co.za/online_reports/eskom_ar2013/pdf/full.pdf
Arndt, C., Pauw, K. & Thurlow, J. Biofuels and economic development: A computable general equilibrium analysis for Tanzania. Energ. Econ. 34, 1922–1930 (2012).
Ashton, P. J. & Turton, A. R. in Facing Global Environmental Change: Environmental, Human, Energy, Food, Health and Water Security Concepts (eds Brauch, H. G. et al.) Ch. 55 (Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace Vol. IV, Springer, 2009).
Furlong, K. Hidden theories, troubled waters: International relations, the 'territorial trap', and the Southern African Development Community's transboundary waters. Polit. Geogr. 25, 438–458 (2006).
SAPP Annual Report 2014 (SAPP, 2014); http://www.sapp.co.zw/docs/Annual%20report-2014.pdf
Southern African Development Commission Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems (SADC, 2000); http://go.nature.com/kuXPml
Savenije, H. H. & Van der Zaag, P. Conceptual framework for the management of shared river basins; with special reference to the SADC and EU. Water Policy 2, 9–45 (2000).
Treaty on the Development and Utilization of the Water Resources of the KOMATI River Basin, 1992 (Komati Basin Water Authority, 1992); http://www.kobwa.co.za/images/Treaty/Joint%20Water%20Commission_Treaty.pdf
Turton, A. A South African perspective on a possible benefit-sharing approach for transboundary waters in the SADC region. Water Alternatives 1, 180–200 (2008).
Mehta, L. et al. The politics of IWRM in southern Africa. Int. J. Water Resour. D. 30, 528–542 (2014).
Muchuru, S., Landman, W. A., DeWitt, D. G. & Lötter, D. Seasonal rainfall predictability over the Lake Kariba catchment area. Water SA 40, 461–469 (2014).
Demand and Supply (SAPP, 2013); http://www.sapp.co.zw/demand.html
Dalin, C., Konar, M., Hanasaki, N., Rinaldo, A. & Rodriguez-Iturbe, I. Evolution of the global virtual water trade network. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 5989–5994 (2012).
Dabrowski, J. M., Masekoameng, E. & Ashton, P. J. Analysis of virtual water flows associated with the trade of maize in the SADC region: Importance of scale. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 13, 1967–1977 (2009).
Nelson, G., Palazzo, A., Ringler, C., Sulser, T. & Batka, M. The Role of International Trade in Climate Change Adaptation Paper No. 4 (INCTSD and IPC, 2009); http://www.agritrade.org/documents/IssueBrief4.pdf
Liu, J., Hertel, T., Taheripour, F., Zhu, T. & Ringler, C. International trade buffers the impact of future irrigation shortfalls. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 22–31 (2014).
Konar, M. & Caylor, K. K. Virtual water trade and development in Africa. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 17, 3969–3982 (2013).
Whiteside, M. Enhancing the Role of Informal Maize Imports in Malawi Food Security (UK Department for International Development, 2003).
Tschirley D. L. & Jayne, T. S. Exploring the logic behind southern Africa's food crises. World Dev. 38, 76–87 (2010).
Ondiege, P., Moyo, J. M. & Verdier-Chouchane, A. Developing Africa's Infrastructure for Enhanced Competitiveness in the Africa Competitiveness Report 2013 (World Economic Forum, 2013).
SADC Protocol on Trade 1996 (SADC, 1996); http://www.sadc.int/files/4613/5292/8370/Protocol_on_Trade1996.pdf
Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan: Transport Sector Plan (SADC, 2012); http://www.sadc.int/files/9313/5293/3536/Regional_Infrastructure_Development_Master_Plan_Transport_Sector_Plan.pdf
Archer van Garderen, E. R. M. Time for action on climate change in southern Africa. The Conversation (25 May 2015); http://theconversation.com/time-for-action-on-climate-change-in-southern-africa-41774
Field, C. B. (ed.) Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).
Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J. & Lister, D. H. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 623–642 (2013).
Jerven, M. Poor Numbers: How we are Misled by African Development Statistics and what to do about it (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013).
Conway, D. & Schipper, E. L. F. Adaptation to climate change in Africa: Challenges and opportunities identified from Ethiopia. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 227–237 (2011).
Pittock, J., Hussey, K & McGlennon, S. Australian climate, energy and water policies: Conflicts and synergies. Aust. Geogr. 44, 3–22 (2013).
Rees, J. Geography and the nexus: Presidential address and record of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) AGM 2013. Geogr. J. 179, 279–282 (2013).
Bizikova, L., Roy, D., Swanson, D., Venema, H. D. & McCandless, M. The Water–Energy–Food Security Nexus: Towards a Practical Planning and Decision-Support Framework for Landscape Investment and Risk Management (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2013).
World Development Indicators (The World Bank, accessed 01 July 2014); http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators
International Energy Agency Statistics (IEA, accessed 01 August 2014); http://www.iea.org/statistics/
AQUASTAT (FAO, accessed 01 August 2014); http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/main/index.stm
FAOSTAT (FAO, accessed 01 July 2011); http://faostat.fao.org/site/291/default.aspx
Hanasaki N. et al. An integrated model for the assessment of global water resources. Part 1: Model description and input meteorological forcing. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. 12, 1007–1025 (2008).
Hanasaki N. et al. An integrated model for the assessment of global water resources. Part 2: Applications and assessments. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 12, 1027–1037 (2008).
This work was supported by the following Belmont Forum members: US National Science Foundation (grant number 1342742), UK Natural Environment Research Council (grant number NE/L008785/1) and the South Africa National Research Foundation (grant number 86975), according to each agency's policies. T.K. and K.L. are funded, through IRI THESys, by the German Excellence Initiative. IFPRI's contribution is under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Conway, D., van Garderen, E., Deryng, D. et al. Climate and southern Africa's water–energy–food nexus. Nature Clim Change 5, 837–846 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2735
International Journal of Production Research (2020)
Journal of Cleaner Production (2020)
Journal of Cleaner Production (2020)
Managing the water-energy-food nexus in China by adjusting critical final demands and supply chains: An input-output analysis
Science of The Total Environment (2020)
Exploring interactions in the local water-energy-food nexus (WEF-Nexus) using a simultaneous equations model
Science of The Total Environment (2020)