Congress Resources: Papers, posters and presentations

< Return to abstract list

Upside Down & Inside Out: A Look At The South Asia Water Initiative

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Paula Hanasz (Blacktown, Australia)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,
AbstractIntroduction
The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna mega-basin (GBM) is arguably the least integrated region in the world in terms of state-to-state coordination of transboundary water issues. There is also a pervasive understanding in South Asia that water conflicts are necessarily zero-sum problems.

In recent years, significant international effort led by the World Bank (and in conjunction with the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and Norway) has been put into developing among South Asian policy makers and water governance institutions an appreciation that water is a shared resource with the potential for positive sum outcomes. Primary among these is the South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI), which focuses primarily on the facilitation of bottom-up, stakeholder-led, deliberative processes around transboundary water issues.

This paper provides an evaluation of how effective these foreign-led efforts have been, and questions the rationale of an ostensibly grassroots regime imposed from top-down and non-local sources. This paper is also a critique of the hegemonic idea, driven by western international institutions such as the World Bank, of 'benefit sharing' in transboundary water management.

This is an important study because there are not many critiques of discursive governance, and none in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin. Indeed, most studies of transboundary water governance focus on regions of the world that provide more spectacular examples of outright conflict. Yet this is a really important region because it has the highest concentration of poor people in the world and it is politically and socially unstable. The GBM mega-basin is likely to face increasing water security challenges as demand for water rises with growing populations and as climate change affect monsoons and glacial melt patterns in the Himalayas, the 'third pole' of the world.

Method
The study was conducted over a six month period, between April and October 2014 in South Asia. The author conducted over 30 face-to-face semi-structure interviews with policy makers, academics, bureaucrats, lawyers, former politicians, and civil society activists in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The primary research is complemented by two years of literature review. The analysis assumes a constructivist perspective of international relations.

Results and Discussion
The stated goal of the World Bank-led South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) is to "increase regional cooperation in the management of the Himalayan River systems." One way that SAWI works toward this goal is by shifting the prevailing attitude that water is a zero sum proposition to an understanding that water is a shared resource that can be governed to reach positive sum outcome/benefit sharing, etc. This is based on the assumption that collaboration and interdependence is likely to mitigate conflict. The method employed by SAWI is 'track II dialogue', or simply put, getting governments talking with non-government stakeholder.

The attempt to bring stakeholders together is certainly laudable and important in developing positive-sum transboundary water interactions. It is, however, problematic. For a start, there is an irony of having a bottom-up, local-led approach imposed not only from the top down but also by external parties (certainly, sometimes a neutral outsider is necessary, but in the context of South Asia it is possible that it could be interpreted as neo-colonialism). Second, they ignore the significance of issue power and the influence of external factors in reaching positive sum outcomes.

There is also a focus within SAWI on bringing stakeholders together over scientific issues, such as river basin modelling and the sharing of meteorological data, especially on the issue of flood control. While this may be an instance of focussing on a single-issue, easy win for cooperation, it must also be asked whether this focus on engineering solutions to wicked problems of public policy is an appropriate strategy. There is already an assumption within South Asia, based on the understanding that rivers are merely pipes for carrying H2O, that water shortages and other issues are a quantitative problem and can be solved with dams and other engineering solutions that store and move water. This is arguably a back-to-front approach, as the water use priorities have to be sorted out before technology, science and engineering is used to support these policy decisions.

Moreover, there is ambivalence within the region toward SAWI. It is perceived to be India-centric, while India itself seems less committed to the SAWI process than neighbouring countries. Of course it is India's smaller, weaker neighbours that have most to gain from a regionalised, rather than a bilateral, approach to river governance. But the power dynamics between the countries do not seem to have been factored into SAWI's integrative negotiation strategy.

Conclusion
It is unclear yet what effect the efforts of the international community to bring GBM mega-basin stakeholders together has had on reaching positive sum outcomes or developing a shared understanding of water as a shared resource. It is, however, likely that the integrative negotiations in and of themselves are not sufficient to bring about more cooperative transboundary water interactions based on an understanding of water as a shared resource.

Yet, no single effort is likely to have much effect on its own; progress is the culmination of a multitude of small, concerted efforts. Meaningful cooperation on transboundary issues cannot be merely imposed, it must instead be the result of lots of small organisations 'chipping away' at single-issues. Baqai, H. 2011. Non-Traditional Sources of Conflict in South Asia 1971-2000. KG, USA: VDM Verlag Dr Mueller GmbH & Co.

Biswas, A. K. 2001. 'Management of international rivers: opportunities and constraints' in Biswas, A. K., and Uitto, J. I. (eds.), 2001. Sustainable development of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins. New Delhi : Oxford University Press.

Chellaney, B. 2011. Water: Asia's New Battleground. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Chellaney, B. 2013. Water, Peace and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Condon, E., Hillman, P., King, J., Lang, K., and Patz, A. 2009. ‘Resource Disputes in south Asia: Water Scarcity and the Potential for Interstate Conflict’, prepared for the Office of South Asia Analysis, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Workshop in International Public Affairs, 1 June 2009, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Dash, K. C. 2008. Regionalism in South Asia: Negotiating cooperation, institutional structures, New York: Routledge.

Dinar, S. 2002. ‘Water, Security, Conflict and Cooperation’ SAIS Review. Vol. XXII No. 2 Summer-Fall 2002.

Government of India. 2012. National Water Policy (2012). New Delhi: Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India

Gyawali, D., and Dixit, A. 1999. 'Mahakali Impasse and Indo-Nepal Water Conflict'. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 34, No. 9 Feb. 27 - Mar. 5 1999.

Hangzo, P.K.K. 2012. 'Transboundary rivers in the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region: Beyond the 'water as weapon' rhetoric'. Insight NTS Insight September 2012. Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies.

Hill, D. 2008. ‘The Regional Politics of Water Sharing: Contemporary Issues in South Asia' in Lahiri-Dutt, K., and Wasson, Robert J. (eds.) 2008. Water First: Issues and Challenges for Nations and Communities in South Asia. New Delhi: Sage.

Iyer, R.R. 2007. Towards Water Wisdom: Limits, Justice, Harmony. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Kayastha, R.L. 2001. 'Water resources development of Nepal: A regional perspective' in Biswas, A. K., and Uitto, J. I. (eds.) 2001. Sustainable development of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kumar, M., and Furlong, M. 2012. 'Securing the Right to Water in India: Perspectives and Challenges' Our Right to Water. Blue Planet Project.

Lahiri-Dutt, K. 2008. ‘Introduction' in Lahiri-Dutt, K., and Wasson, Robert J. (eds.) 2008. Water First: Issues and Challenges for Nations and Communities in South Asia. New Delhi: Sage.

Mitra, S.K. 2003. ‘The reluctant hegemon: India's self-perception and the South Asian strategic environment' Contemporary South Asia, 12 (3) September 2003. National Research Council of the National Academies. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Nexant SARI/Energy. 2002. Regional Hydro-power Resources: Status of Development and Barriers (Bhutan). USAID-SARI/Energy Program. September 2002.

Onta, I.R. 2001. 'Harnessing the Himalayan waters of Nepal: A case for partnership on the Ganges basin' in Biswas, A. K., and Uitto, J. I. (eds.) 2001. Sustainable development of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Qaddumi, H. 2008. 'Practical approaches to transboundary water benefit sharing' Working Paper 292. London: Overseas Development Institute.

Ray, B. 2008. ‘Global Conventions and Regulations on International Rivers: Implications for South Asia’ in Lahiri-Dutt, K., and Wasson, R.J. (eds.) 2008. Water First: Issues and Challenges for Nations and Communities in South Asia. New Delhi: Sage.

Renner, M. 2009. 'Water challenges in Central-South Asia', Noref Policy Brief No 4 December 2009. Oslo: The Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre.

Saravanan, V.S. 2008. ‘Top-down or Bottom-up? Negotiating Water Management at the Local Level in South Asia' in Lahiri-Dutt, K., and Wasson, R.J. (eds.) 2008 Water First: Issues and Challenges for Nations and Communities in South Asia. New Delhi: Sage.

Singh, R. 2008. ‘Trans-boundary Water Politics and Conflicts in South Asia: Towards Water for Peace'. New Delhi: Centre for Democracy and Social Action. South Asia Water Initiative. 2014. Key Partners https://www.southasiawaterinitiative.org/SAWIPartners Accessed 24 July 2014.

Tiwary, R. 2006. Conflicts over International Waters. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 41, No. 17 Apr. 29 - May 5, 2006.

Uitto, J.I., and Duda, A.M. 2002 ‘Management of Transboundary Water Resources: Lessons from International Cooperation for Conflict Prevention' The Geographical Journal. Vol. 168, No. 4, Water Wars? Geographical Perspectives. December 2002.

Wirsing, R., Jasparro, C., and Stoll, D.C. 2013. International Conflict Over Water Resources in Himalayan Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Wohl, E. 2012. 'The Ganga - Eternally pure?' GWF Discussion Paper 1208. Canberra: Global Water Forum.

Wolf, A. 1998. 'Conflict and cooperation along international waterways' in Water Policy. Vol. 1 #2 1998.

Wolf, A. et al. 2005. 'Managing Water Conflict and Cooperation'. State of the World 2005. The Worldwatch Institute.

Yoffe, S. et al. 2004. 'Geography of international water conflict and cooperation: Data sets and applications', in Water Resources Research. Vol. 40

Zeitoun, M., and Mirumachi, N. 2008. ‘Transboundary water interaction 1: reconsidering conflict and cooperation' International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Vol. 8, Issue 4.

Zeitoun, M. and Warner, J. 2006. ‘Hydro-hegemony - a framework for analysis of trans-boundary water conflicts’ Water Policy. Vol. 8 (2006).

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association office@iwra.org - http://www.iwra.org - Admin