Water demand and ecosystem nexus in the transboundary river basin: a zero-sum game


The water demand in the upstream and downstream of a transboundary river basin varies based on the water use by the irrigation projects, dam, hydroelectricity, ecosystem, livelihood practices and household activities of the people. The study considered the case of Teesta river basin and estimates the water demand of upstream, downstream region as well as entire Teesta river basin shared by India and Bangladesh. The water productivity method exercised in the study demonstrates that 2648 and 1971 cumec water is required to fulfill the irrigation demand of command and irrigable areas, respectively, of entire Teesta basin throughout the year against 198, 1472, 793 cumec water discharge in dry, monsoon and lean season. Although there is a substantial water demand for the hydropower projects in the upstream, it is appeared that water required only by the upstream irrigation project is beyond the water supply capacity of the Trans-Himalayan river Teesta during dry and lean season. This may underpin the shortage of water in the lower riparian country, which fuels the zero-sum game in the river basin, where one player is affected by the intervention of the another player. The result from this analysis with zero-sum game perspective may be useful for reviewing transboundary water policies, basin management and development, sustainable water resource management and water sharing mechanism among countries in the transboundary river basin.

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Fig. 1

Source: Adopted from Waslekar et al. (2013)

Fig. 2

Source: Author’s estimation based on the data of BWDB


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This work was carried out by the Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) consortium under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development and the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. The authors are grateful to Bangladesh Water Development Board for providing necessary data and information to carry out this study. Authors are also indebted to Mir Sajjad Hossain, Member, Joint Rivers Commission Bangladesh (JRCB) for providing intellectual support to prepare this paper.

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Correspondence to Md. Arfanuzzaman.

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Disclaimer The views expressed in this work are those of the creators and do not necessarily represent those of the UK Government’s Department for International Development, the International Development Research Centre, Canada or its Board of Governors.

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Arfanuzzaman, M., Abu Syed, M. Water demand and ecosystem nexus in the transboundary river basin: a zero-sum game. Environ Dev Sustain 20, 963–974 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-017-9915-y

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  • Blue peace
  • Ecosystem service
  • Transboundary water
  • Teesta river
  • Water conflict
  • Water resource economics
  • Zero-sum game