Fulbright Water-Energy-Food Nexus Workshop

Fatema Z. Sumar
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
As Prepared for Delivery
Kathmandu, Nepal
February 12, 2015


Thank you for the kind introduction. I want to thank Dr. Vasily of the Nepal Fulbright Commission for bringing us all together to discuss the water, energy, and food nexus. I also want to recognize the efforts of our partners, Dr. Molden and the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, Dr. Young of the World Bank, and Dipak Gyawali of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation. I understand Mr. Gyawali is himself a Fulbright alumnus.

I am pleased to be joining all of you today, along with our water, energy, and food experts, and all of our outstanding Fulbright alumni.

The Fulbright program is one of our most respected programs and is an excellent tool to build stronger ties with the region and within the region. Over 360,000 Fulbrighters have participated in the program since its inception almost 70 years ago in 1946. I am proud to report that for the 2014-2015 academic year there are nearly 1,000 Fulbright participants from South and Central Asia or completing their fellowships in the region.

South and Central Asia is home to some of the most pressing challenges and biggest opportunities in the 21st century. Programs like Fulbright are incredibly important in this neighborhood. We are proud to support both your cutting-edge scholarship and your important work enhancing people-to-people ties that serve as the foundation for international cooperation.

Recognizing Fulbright Work in the Region

In focusing on water, energy and food issues, you and your colleagues are creating enduring benefits for a region that will depend on research and innovation to create stability and prosperity. Already, your work is changing lives.

For example, Fulbright alumni designed the SONO filter to treat and remove arsenic from well water and developed the Drinkwell Project for community-based safe water systems in rural areas.

Alumni have also conserved India’s vanishing rice varieties, conducted research on the first approved genetically modified food in South Asia and aided marginalized women working as street food vendors in Kolkata to prepare safe hygienic food that adheres to environmentally conscious business practices.

And, given growing concerns over climate change, research by another alumnus focused on the Brahmaputra River in India helps us focus on how climate change affects the region.

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Even with these inspiring accomplishments, we recognize that too often water, energy and food are addressed as separate issues. The Nexus effort – both globally and in this workshop in Kathmandu – is a strategy meant to shape a traditionally disparate approach to water, energy and food and highlight their interconnections. We all know innovation in the water sector can dramatically affect how people access and use energy and food. A dynamic energy sector can streamline production of food and the accessibility of water. A more efficient, sustainable food sector impacts and shapes water and energy usage.

If we focus on water, there are predictions that by 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions – where water has become an impediment to socio-economic development.

Agriculture is the largest global consumer of freshwater, and irrigated agriculture provides 40 percent of the world’s food. Increasing food production to alleviate hunger and meet the demands of a growing world population means ensuring that sufficient water is available when crops need it. It also means that improving agricultural water management is essential.

When we consider the United Nations’ Post-2015 Development Agenda, we see the critical link between energy, economic growth and poverty eradication, as well as a range of other thematic issues such as food, water, climate and health.

Our Approach

With such issues confronting us, the United States recognizes the need to increase international water security. We need to ensure that everyone has the water they need, where they need it, when they need it – in a reliable and sustainable manner.

To achieve this goal, the United States is working on five lines of effort to: 1) improve hygiene and increase access to safe drinking water and sanitation; 2) improve water resources management; 3) increase the productivity of water; 4) improve water treatment and recycling; and 5) mitigate tensions associated with shared waters.

We are doing this through five specific approaches: 1) capacity building, institutional strengthening and policy/regulatory reform; 2) diplomatic engagement; 3) direct investments to meet immediate needs, build infrastructure, and mobilize local capital; 4) investment in science and technology; and 5) new partnerships to develop solutions.

To address the water challenge, we must build political will, strengthen capacity, mobilize resources, advance science and technology, and develop partnerships that can deliver meaningful results on the ground.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is mustering the required political will to create lasting change. While this is a global challenge, the solutions are local. Communities and governments must work towards meeting the basic needs of their people. This means prioritizing water issues in national development plans and strategies and providing budget support to meet these goals.

Water and Food Security

Based on current water use, food consumption trends, and predicted population growth, by 2050 agricultural production will need to increase by 70 percent to support the food chain.

To attain food security, we need to use water and energy more efficiently and lessen agriculture’s negative effects on the water supply. Better water resources management, sustainable and equitable access to water and use of improved, energy-efficient technologies are steps in this direction.

We also need to protect water resources and wetland systems that support fisheries, which provide a significant source of protein to two and a half billion people in developing countries.

Water and Energy

The energy-water nexus is an important issue for the United States domestically and internationally as we, and others, strive to strike a balance between energy supply and sustainable development of our natural resources. In South Asia, nearly 500 million people lack access to reliable energy, and in recent years in Nepal alone, consumers have experienced up to 18 hours a day of blackouts during the dry season. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on earth requiring more energy, more water and more food than today.

This is a global challenge, but there are solutions. Working together, we can overcome these challenges using innovative technologies and policies.

What steps can we take to move forward?

Get data. We need to understand better the problem, the connections, and the impacts by generating, using, and openly sharing improved sources of data.

Deploy technology. Let us implement innovative, off-the-shelf technologies that promote energy and water efficiency, use non-traditional sources of water for energy production and generation, or create water and energy from waste.

Work together. Energy and water decision-makers must work together to ensure that decisions made by one sector do not impact the other. We can help by strengthening institutions and establishing mechanisms for joint planning and development across sectors.

Use incentives. Incentives are an effective tool to encourage conservation of water and energy. We can start working to create policy and regulatory frameworks that strengthen local capacity and enable businesses to serve as a catalyst for change.

Internationally, the State Department is supporting nexus dialogues – including this one in Kathmandu – to share best practices that can help countries address their energy and water challenges. The United States is committed to finding and implementing solutions to these problems and welcomes the opportunity to partner with other governments and civil society in this effort.


Hydropower is a bright spot in the energy story. Last December, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation expanded Nepal’s threshold program to a full compact agreement, bringing with it additional resources to develop key industries like energy that support economic growth. With 40,000 megawatts of commercially viable potential, and with the right steps, Nepal could be a source of emission-free power for itself and South Asia. A recently signed Power Trade Agreement between India and Nepal provides a framework for market-based power exchanges. In addition, Nepal’s Investment Board completed Power Trade Agreements with Indian consortiums on two 900-MW projects, the Upper Karnali and Arun III plants. Now is the time to seize the momentum and help Nepal fully realize its hydro potential, which will unleash economic prosperity for its citizens and the entire region.

As we consider the best strategies to support Nepal’s hydropower development, we must take measured decisions with affected stakeholders that rely on the best available science. This includes a focus up front on water basin management and environmental and social impact. Nepal has a real opportunity here to undertake long-term strategic planning to develop its hydro potential in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

Water and Climate Change

I want to turn for a moment to another key area – climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Climate Action Report and other reports say the same thing. Climate change affects every aspect of food security, from production to pricing.

Climate change is not some distant threat. Globally, the 14 warmest years on record have all been since 1998. Droughts and wildfires have become more frequent and more intense in some regions, while flooding has intensified in others. Deserts are expanding. Water quality and quantity are being affected by changes in precipitation and runoff. Sea level rise is now increasing at about twice the average rate it was in the 20th century.

These are the facts – and the United States is taking action to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions and increasing our use of renewable and clean energy resources at home, and helping other countries do the same around the globe. As you are all aware, in recent months President Obama has announced new cooperation with China and India on climate change and renewable energy. And the United States is working with governments throughout South Asia on green energy, clean cook stoves, and disaster risk resilience.


As I conclude, let me stress that the United States and the countries of South Asia are working hand-in-hand to pursue development in a way that boosts local economies and sustains the environment. This requires good data for proper analysis and planning, smart investments, strong leaders and effective institutions to manage environmental resources for the benefit of the region.

You, as the Fulbright, Humphrey, and International Visitor Leadership Program Alumni and other experts pioneering our approach to the nexus, represent the future. We appreciate your work and look forward to learning more about your accomplishments in the months and years ahead.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing your views.