Assessment of transboundary river basins for potential hydro-political tensions (2017)

De Stefano, L., Petersen-Perlman, J.D., Sproles, E.A., Eynard, J., Wolf, A.T. Global Environmental Change


This paper presents a systematic, global assessment of transboundary watersheds that identifies regions more likely to experience hydro-political tensions over the next decade and beyond based upon environmental, political, and economic indicators. The development of new water infrastructure in transboundary basins can strain relationships among fellow riparians as the impacts of new dams and diversions are felt across borders. Formal arrangements governing transboundary river basins, such as international water treaties and river basin organizations, provide a framework for dialogue and negotiation, thus contributing to assuaging potential disputes. Our study examines these two issues in tandem – the stresses inherent in development and the mitigating impact of institutions – and maps the risk of potential hydro-political tensions that exist where basins may be ill-equipped to deal with transboundary disputes triggered by the construction of new dams and diversions. We also consider several factors that could exacerbate those hydropolitical tensions in the near future, including changes in terrestrial water storage, projected changes in water variability, per capita gross national income, domestic and international armed conflicts, and recent history of disputes over transboundary waters. The study points to the vulnerability of several basins in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central America, the northern part of the South American continent, the southern Balkans as well as in different parts of Africa, where new water infrastructure is being built or planned, but formal transboundary arrangements are absent. Moreover, in some of these regions there is a concomitance of several political, environmental and socioeconomic factors that could exacerbate hydropolitical tensions. This study contributes to the understanding of how the recent proliferation of development accompanied with unfavourable socio-economic and environmental indicators may influence global hydropolitical resilience.



De Stefano, L., Petersen-Perlman, J.D., Sproles, E.A., Eynard, J., Wolf, A.T., 2017. Assessment of transboundary river basins for potential hydro-political tensions. Glob. Environ. Chang. 45, 35–46.


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