Clearing the muddy waters of shared watercourses governance: conceptualizing international River Basin Organizations

Abstract

Institutions that have been set up by riparian states to internationally govern shared water resources—international River Basin Organizations (RBOs)—play a key role in river basin governance. Despite an increased attention paid to RBOs in international relations and water scholarship, there has been little focus on defining and conceptualizing RBOs and, subsequently, on comprehensively identifying the RBOs that exist around the world. This has challenged research around RBOs in both methodological and theoretical ways. This paper aims to meet this challenge by offering a theoretically grounded definition of an international RBO and crafting a comprehensive list of international RBOs. We do so deductively, building from the larger neo-institutionalist research and international water resources governance literature. Our definition identifies three broad categories of constitutive elements: internationalization, institutionalization and governance. We apply this definition to potential cases to better identify the extent of RBOs around the world today and outline which cases qualify as RBOs and which cases fail to meet our constitutive criteria. This allows us to compile a comprehensive list of all existing international RBOs, including the identification of RBOs with specific characteristics. The article concludes by crafting an agenda for future research around RBOs that builds on this more complete understanding of RBOs.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    A great number of these freshwater treaties have been made available through the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD) at the Oregon State University (http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/database/index.html).

  2. 2.

    Five cases were coded with the initial coding form by two coders and then the coding instructions were revised in cases where inter-coder reliability was low. After coding with the final coding form, approximately 25 % of the coded cases were selected randomly and coded by a second coder to check for inter-coder reliability. Inter-coder reliability was approximately 85 % based on the number of constitutive elements coded the same. In cases where we encountered contradictions in the secondary literature, we relied on our empirical findings from the treaties and website analysis.

  3. 3.

    The vast majority of RBOs listed in Table 1 cover one river or lake basin. However, in eleven out of eighty-one instances (14 %), RBOs cover more than one river basin. Such institutionalized cooperation attempts do, nonetheless, qualify as RBOs but with the additional characteristic that the constitutive element “basin coverage” applies to more than one watercourse (these cases are highlighted in italics in Table 1).

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Schmeier, S., Gerlak, A.K. & Blumstein, S. Clearing the muddy waters of shared watercourses governance: conceptualizing international River Basin Organizations. Int Environ Agreements 16, 597–619 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-015-9287-4

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Keywords

  • International rivers and lakes
  • Water cooperation
  • International River Basin Organizations