Congress Resources: Papers, posters and presentations

< Return to abstract list

Adversaries Into Partners: Applying A Mutual Gains Approach To The Governance Of International Water

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Glen Hearns (Garibaldi Highlands, Canada)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,

The objective of this paper is to show how potential adversaries can be turned into partners by applying mutual gains approach the governance of international waters in Afghanistan and the region. Afghanistan is only one of several countries where where is scarce in the region of Central Asia. Uzbekistan for instance has an estimated 590 m3/capita of renewable internal water resources and is heavily dependent on inflows from other countries. Rivers in the region are dependent upon snow melt and highly seasonal. As a result many countries have invested in developing their storage capacities. Not all countries have adapted to these conditions equally. Kazakhstan has a staggering 5895 m3/capita of storage capacity, while Afghanistan has only an estimated 135 m3/capita. After 30 years of hiatus in the water sector Afghanistan is in the process of developing its water resources in increasing its storage capacity. Downstream countries voiced concern that development in Afghanistan will result in significant negative impacts on them. This paper reviews the water resource situation in the Amu Darya and Kabul basins illustrating that potential water resource development in Afghanistan is likely to result in limited downstream impacts, is equitable and reasonable under international law, and moreover provides substantial possibilities for mutual benefit with its downstream neighbours.


The paper is based on extensive literature reviews and documentation and is founded on professional experience in the region.

Results and discussion

Several studies have been conducted to help set infrastructure investment priorities in both the Kabul and Panj-Amu basins of Afghanistan. The studies included modelling of the basins with respect to different investment scenarios and amongst other things explored the effects on flows downstream. It can be shown that in both cases if the complete set of potential investment packages where to proceed they would have limited impact on downstream Mean Annual Discharge (MAD). In the case of the Panj-Amu Basin the maximum investment portfolio cost is estimated at $US 4.5 billion and includes six hydro and irrigation projects. Despite this apparent large scale development the overall effect on the Amu River downstream is expected to be limited because 1) the size of the Afghan Kunduz and Kocha rivers are relatively small in comparison to the overall Amu Darya flows; 2) there are return flows from agricultural use to the Amu River; and 3) while there are seasonal variations (i.e. lower flows in June and higher in January) these are balanced out over the year. In the Kabul Basin the maximum investment portfolio would cost an estimated $US 3.5 billion and would impact the MAD of the Kabul River into Pakistan by some -3 to -4%. This amounts to less approximately -0.6% change in flow of the Indus River below the confluence of the Kabul River. Furthermore, when assessing potential impacts on downstream users it should be considered that the maximum investment portfolio does not imply the optimum investment portfolio. Also, these scenarios consider current water use efficiencies which are likely to improve with new investments. They should be seen therefore as worst case scenarios. More importantly, the effects of regulation of the rivers should be approached with a view to establish mutual benefits for all those concerned.

In August 2014 the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses came into force. The convention address management of international watercourses through the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation balanced with taking all appropriate measures to prevent causing significant harm to other states. It further obligates states sharing an international watercourse to cooperate to find mutual benefits, and optimize use and protection of the watercourse including the exchange of information and notifying each other of planned developments. What constitutes equitable and reasonable are not an absolute and are subject to interpretation; nevertheless, the Convention details issues that should be considered in its determination. Issues such the natural character of the watercourse, the social needs and populations dependent on the watercourse, the effects of the use, the protection and economy of use of the water resources, amongst others, are all factors to be considered. The paper outlines how proposed development in Afghanistan can be considered equitable and reasonable, but more importantly highlights areas where mutual benefit should be explored when considering water resource development in the region. Amongst other possible benefits regulation of the Kabul Basin would have a positive impact on downstream energy production in Pakistan. Erosion and flood control continue to be issues in the Amu River Basin moreover upstream regulation could help facilitate adaptive solutions to water resource constraints in the face of climate change.


The paper concludes that Afghanistan's development of water resources are not going to be spontaneous but rather will take place over decades. Consequently, not only there is adequate time for states in the region to prepare and adapt to changes in water management, but if there is adequate dialogue and cooperation there are mutual benefits to be gained by all concerned, including the environment. Moreover, the crux of promoting cooperation may not necessarily be water per se but rather its link to energy, livelihoods, and economic well-being. Assessment of water use through a lens of 'virtual water' may help in moving dialogue forward to enhance cooperation and optimal use of a scarce resource.

Dr. Glen Hearns


Transboundary International Waters Initiative


PO Box 1021, G. Highlands

Canada V0N1T0

tel: (1) 604-848-4096

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin