Abstract

This article investigates the motives and incentives that drive countries' diplomatic efforts in water disputes. It aims to identify links between the formation of water management institutions (WMIs) and the outcomes of such institutional cooperation. Three features have been identified as key to the effectiveness of WMIs: (1) the development of trust; (2) sanctions aimed at curbing cheating; and (3) the balancing of different countries’ interests over shared waters. This article conducts a comparative analysis of the formation of institutional arrangements among three riparian states by focusing on two cases: water interactions between China and India, and between India and Bangladesh. It argues that India, China and Bangladesh have exhibited different preferences in regard to their participation in WMIs. The two cases illustrate how different WMIs are formed and also how, in proportion to variations in the level of competition over water quantity, diplomatic cooperation through environmental agreements can lead to different outcomes with varying degrees of success. This article concludes that in the context of the global South, where foreign relations are unstable and countries’ reliance on river basins varied, building trust and balancing interests over water management are especially important to the formation of effective institutional arrangements.

Introduction

Recent years have witnessed a growth in water disputes linked to the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, which collectively form one of the largest water basins in the world, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM). The GBM is regarded as one of the least coordinated river systems in the world (ICA, 2012), not least due to its crossing of national boundaries between China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and India, some of whose inhabitants are among the poorest in the world (Bandyopadhyay & Ghosh, 2009). The river basin represents a resource-rich hotspot for the aforesaid states, which are all coming under growing pressure to react to pressing issues such as industrialization, climate change and increasing demands on their ecosystems.

As major riparian states, China and India have developed dynamic water discord over the GBM. Both have a pressing need for water resources that they can exploit to address their national needs and, further, have been accused of taking unilateral action to meet those needs, such as by constructing dams or water diversion projects (Chowdhury, 2010). Regarding the geographical conditions, India is located on the middle part of the GBM rivers; hence upstream changes in China's territory may have a significant impact on India's water usage as a downstream country. Accordingly, India has a strong interest in how China uses its water resources. There are significant risks of flooding during the monsoon season, which threaten residents along the river basin in India's north-eastern region of Arunachal Pradesh. China's unilateral planning and use of water resources from the Yarlung Tsangpo river has further enhanced such concerns for India.

Similarly, India is upstream from Bangladesh, meaning that the latter has a strong interest in how India uses its water resources analogous to the situation between China and India. However, unlike in the China–India case, India competes fiercely with Bangladesh for limited water supplies during the lean season. A core concern for Bangladesh has been India's construction of the Farakka Barrage, which, Bangladesh claims, greatly reduces its access to fresh water. Scientific research has also provided evidence to suggest that there is a reduction in the base flow in the Ganga watershed during the dry season, which impacts negatively on the populations that depend on river water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation (Gourdji et al., 2005). Overall, India's water usage has a greater impact on Bangladesh during both the monsoon and dry seasons, affecting not only Bangladeshi society and the environment, but also the country's economy.

Geographical conditions have a significant impact on how countries go about negotiating institutional arrangements. The upstream–downstream situation has been highlighted as one of the most difficult challenges for the formation of water institutions. In particular, both cases considered here demonstrate how the geography of upstream countries allows them to wield greater power in such relationships. Nevertheless, neither of the two upstream countries, India and China, is party to major global water norms, and they both remain keen to cope with water conflicts through bilateral foreign relations1. In both case studies, bilateral water management institutions (WMIs) have been formed, albeit in different ways. In the first case, hydrological data-sharing agreements have been developed between India and China. Meanwhile, in recent decades India and Bangladesh have developed treaties concerning the Ganges, although currently there is only one treaty, the Ganges Water Treaty (1996), that regulates the sharing of Ganges water between the two countries. The evolution of water treaties will be reviewed in the case studies that follow.

By focusing on these two cases, this article aims to shed light on the features of water agreements and their effects on cooperation. By doing so, we hope to establish a link between features of WMIs and the outcomes of the said cooperation. To that end, the following four research questions will be addressed: How do countries negotiate WMIs? What institutional cooperation has been formed? To what extent are WMIs likely to effectively promote the management of shared water resources? Is it possible for WMIs to promote sustainable water management?

The comparison between the case studies is structured as follows. The next section surveys theoretical perspectives on how institutional water cooperation represents complex dynamics. Considering the various national interests that are vested in institutional cooperation, the outcomes of such initiatives do not always prove effective as means for tackling water disputes. The fourth section offers an explanation of the study sites and methods of data collection. The fifth section investigates bilateral WMIs between China and India, and India and Bangladesh, respectively. The various interests that shape institutional arrangements and the outcomes of institutional cooperation are presented for both cases. The sixth section generalizes the contrasts and similarities between the two sets of bilateral WMIs. In the concluding section we discuss the major findings and limitations of this comparative case study.

Theoretical discussion

Scholars on water cooperation have paid insufficient attention to the significance of conflict resolution to effective transboundary water management. Generally speaking, neo-liberalism has been more influential in providing understanding of the formation and effectiveness of environmental agreements (O'Neill, 2009). Water agreements are regarded as one useful measure for resolving water conflicts that often arise from disputes over water quantity and quality (Wolf et al., 2005). A good deal of attention has been paid in the relevant literature to the construction of institutions, which is regarded as a causal factor in the successful resolution of water conflicts (Bernauer & Siefried, 2008). Although WMIs are formed in some cases, the compliance in many cases is poor. Disagreements are likely to occur continuously throughout any efforts to resolve conflicts and improve the management of transboundary water basins (Zeitoun & Mirumachi, 2008). Questions have been raised on the effectiveness of the existence of international agreements (Bernauer & Siefried, 2008).

Recent literature points out that the institutionalization of WMIs is dynamic. Water management serves multiple objectives and navigates between competing interests (Wolf et al., 2005). Individual nations’ interests over water tend to be asymmetric where they share transboundary water systems, and they show differing motivations in forming international regimes (Lindemann, 2008). It is pointed out that water-related issues intersect the domestic and international domains, and hence may have a significant impact on domestic politics. Seemingly cooperative behaviour among nations may thus be revealed to be deeply rooted in each country's national political interests. For example, in the case of the River Jordan conflict, Fischhendler suggests that Israel and Jordan − the two parties involved − shared a common interest to cheat, although their interests differed. Cases such as this should remind us that vested political interests are likely to be found in contexts where unstable foreign relations exist − and particularly ongoing border disputes or unresolved conflicts − which will feed into negotiations over shared water resources (Fischhendler, 2008).

Contextual factors also have an impact on the outcomes of WMIs. The process whereby countries negotiate over transboundary interests is complex and greatly challenged by each riparian country's legal system, social values and technical capabilities (Raadgever et al., 2008). In the global South, the degree of their commitment to WMIs is believed to be hampered by competing national interests such as economic growth (Fox & Sneddon, 2007). Participating in international institutional arrangements can allow some countries opportunities for free-riding. So these states are found to be motivated to form international arrangements only when their national interests are secured, such as with opportunities for economic growth (Wolf et al., 2005). Furthermore, the political will of leaders in industrializing countries is doubted. Sadoff & Grey (2005) have pointed out that a wide range of responses can be identified in how states react to water disputes, ranging from their taking independent action to developing collaboration (communication and adapting national plans for mutual benefits) and establishing joint actions (developing joint plans or management).

Therefore, attention is needed on the effectiveness of WMIs. Scholars have provided a poor understanding of why countries’ levels of commitment to WMIs are weak. So far, only a small amount of work has been done to shed light on successful WMI formation that leads to effective resolution of water disagreements (Ovodenko, 2014).

Analytical framework: substantial water cooperation

In this section we aim to develop an analytical framework that helps to provide understanding of the features of water treaties that may lead to effective cooperation in water management as a result of complex interactions between nation states. Successfully negotiated water agreements can be identified by three primary features: trust-building, sanctions that aim at curbing cheating, and the balancing of interests.

Mistrust frequently occurs in countries’ interactions over shared waters. This problem can often be addressed by enhancing monitoring that is likely to eliminate mistrust. Literature on environmental agreements informs us that where there is a common interest to share waters, particularly in multi-sectoral water management, countries tend to share information (Haftendorn, 2000). Information disclosure represents a key international norm for mitigating conflicts among countries that share waters (Mitchell & Zawahri, 2015). For instance, it facilitates the smooth exchange of water data, promotes communication and understanding between riparian states (von Stein, 2008), and facilitates transparency and mutual assurance (Burton & Molden, 2005). Therefore, trust-building is of great importance to diplomacy, which of course relies on cordial foreign relations – a prerequisite condition for the formation of WMIs (Brochmann & Gleditsch, 2006).

Sanctions are another key component of WMIs that promote sustainable water management (Fischhendler, 2008), whose institutionalization at regional and national levels requires the coordination of collective actions. States have incentives to free-ride (Mostert, 2003) or cheat (Dietz et al., 2003). As mentioned above, most of these issues have been identified in studies of the resolution of water disputes in the global South. Additionally, where sanctions aimed at regulating participant members of WMIs are lacking, there are some cases where international actors’ involvement have also proved instrumental in resolving existing water disputes. They have been identified as an effective way to promote treaty cooperation, particularly in the global South (Berardo & Gerlak, 2012).

Another feature of water institutions is to encourage countries to identify common ground to work on, particularly when they each have varied interests and priorities in water resource management. The literature informs us that one source of conflict between countries sharing water basins is asymmetric national preference. Even though countries may share common interests in collaborating over water management, their commitment to the preservation of water resources can also vary. Some argue that countries focus not only on their economic interests, but also on the maintenance and integrity of their ecosystems (Ovodenko, 2014). The asymmetric preferences that emerge through institutional formation can affect the prospects of developing broad collaboration that promotes sustainable water management (Berardo & Gerlak, 2012).

Therefore, WMIs are formed to facilitate cooperative initiatives. Specific efforts are needed to balance countries’ asymmetric sectoral interests in water. Special treatments – often in the form of compensation – are also seen as necessary to facilitate negotiations (Dinar, 2006). Another possibility to enhance collaboration in water-sharing is to facilitate the setting up of issue links. Dombrowsky (2010) suggests that by developing intra-sectoral links within the water resources sector, countries’ interests in water management can be expanded. In comparison with situations where no profits can be gained from cooperation, this approach increases opportunities for substantial collaborative water management to be formed (Dombrowsky, 2010).

From this survey of the literature, we have identified three features of water institutions that are crucial to the effective performance of WMIs. These features are not mutually exclusive and provide insights that help us to identify cases where substantial collaboration of water management has been achieved. WMIs that fulfil these three features are likely to promote the sustainable management of water basins, even when the countries involved in such initiatives have varied and potentially conflicting interests.

Study sites and method

Study sites

In this study, countries’ incentives will be investigated by adopting the case study of water institutions formed in the GBM basin, selecting in particular two cases to illustrate how differing national motivations can lead to varied outcomes: (1) water interactions between China and India and (2) between India and Bangladesh. In the former case, China is accused of arbitrarily using water resources in South Tibet without considering the interests of communities in India. The two countries have only reached an MOU (memorandum of understanding) as a relatively low level of bilateral agreement, which has been renewed and implemented over the years since it was formed. The latter case resulted in a formal treaty last updated in 1996, and so the history of both parties’ compliance with that treaty provides rich empirical data for comparison. The two cases share a few similarities in terms of water dispute resolutions.

Geographical condition is a significant factor affecting countries negotiating on institutional arrangements. The upstream–downstream situation is suggested to be one of the most difficult for the formation of water institutions (Song & Whittington, 2004). Regarding the geographical conditions, India is located in the middle part of the GBM. Upstream changes in China's territory may have a significant impact on downstream countries’ water usage, thus giving India a strong interest in how China uses its water resources. Similarly, India is upstream of Bangladesh, meaning the latter has a strong interest in India's use of its water resources analogous to the case of China and India. Both China and India are faced with disputes over water quantity (Salman, 2010). In particular, both cases share the pattern of upstream countries wielding greater power through their geography in such relationships.

The GBM is one of the largest water basins in the world (see Figure 1) and has a large spatial disparity in precipitation. Since the majority of the total rainfall occurs during monsoon season, which lasts about two and a half months, a wide temporal inequity exists (Bandyopadhyay & Ghosh, 2009). Water from China's mainstream Yaluzangbu river contributes 14.61% of the total annual run-off of the Brahmaputra river, and the contribution of water from China is small in terms of the total natural run-off (Sun et al., 2011).

Fig. 1.

Geopolitical units in the GBM river basin. Source: modified from Rahaman (2009). Note: For convenience, the map currently indicates the disputed border according to China's claims.

Fig. 1.

Geopolitical units in the GBM river basin. Source: modified from Rahaman (2009). Note: For convenience, the map currently indicates the disputed border according to China's claims.

Regarding India and Bangladesh, the two countries compete fiercely for limited water supplies during the lean season. The total annual run-off of Bangladesh is 1,230 × 109 m3, of which 85% occurs during the monsoon period between June and October (Rahaman, 2009). Hence, India's water usage has a greater impact on Bangladesh during both the monsoon and dry seasons. India unilaterally constructed Farakka Barrage that has had negative impacts on Bangladesh including on its agriculture, fisheries, industry, navigation, forestry and vegetation in the south-west region (Biswas et al., 2001; Rahaman, 2012).

Methods

To discuss the nature, rationale and the formation of the water information agreements, various methods are adopted to collect data including semi-structured interviews, archival studies of government documents and publicly disclosed information.

Challenges were posed in data collection on the policy development of water resources in both China and India. Due to the implications of water policy on foreign relations, there is restricted information disclosure on policy developments that concern transboundary rivers in China. The issue of the GBM is linked to Tibet, an issue of high political sensitivity to China. Hence, central government has restricted the sharing of policy information on water management and planning in South Tibet (Rahaman, 2009).

As for India, although certain policy information can be accessed, due to its unstable relations with China, national political authorities in the Ministry of Water Resources have also been cautious about information disclosure on the management of the GBM. For both cases, interviews were conducted with diplomats and officials who are familiar with foreign policy making. Insights on international water policy development are also gained from interviews with India-based International Rivers and local environmentalists (interview with expert/activist, Yong Yang, 6 May 2014). Secondary information has been another source of data.

Data collection on Bangladesh's policy development was relatively smooth. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the national government and experts. Major issues such as concerns over water resource management, water information-sharing agreements and how they are complied with were discussed. Similarly, secondary information has been collected.

Empirical studies

China–India case

China's commitment to cooperative agreements is rooted in its intention to construct dam projects (e.g. Zangmu Dam (藏木), Dagu, Jiacha, and Jiexu). In pursuit of its economic goals, the Chinese Government has extended its policies on domestic water resource management to all rivers running through China's national borders. The country is thus focused on harvesting economic benefits through resource governance. The river system of the Brahmaputra is viewed as ‘under exploitation’ by both China and India (interview with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) India, 11 April 2014; see also Price et al., 2014), which is not surprising given that further development plans have been made to extract economic benefits from it. A coherent set of policies to plan and manage water resources has been developed by the Chinese Government to meet the targets set out in the 11th and 12th five-year plans (Jia et al., 2014). Importantly, both plans deem the building of the Zangmu Hydropower Station over the Brahmaputra as an internal affair; hence details of its planning, construction and operation were not disclosed to downstream riparian states on the Brahmaputra.

For India, China's unilateral planning and use of water resources from the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) are a major cause of concern. Since no formal agreement over the Zangmu dam/Yarlung Tsangpo has been reached between the two countries, Indian elites and mass media have begun to raise concerns about China's reluctance to provide relevant information. In particular, it was feared that China's upstream water usage would have a detrimental impact on India (interview with scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences). Since 2000, flash floods have caused large-scale destruction along the downstream of the GBM in Arunachal Pradesh. Accordingly, India has shown strong concern in its diplomacy with China about sharing hydrological information so that it can monitor the ecological impact of the GBM.

In response to the flooding in India in 2000, and having closely monitored the situation for weeks beforehand, the Chinese authorities sent warnings to the Indian Government about the likelihood of landslides. Subsequent talks on the issue between the two nations led to an agreement over the Brahmaputra River. In 2002, the two countries agreed on an MOU in the form of a bilateral agreement, which has been renewed and implemented in the years since it was formed. Since 2002, continuing joint ministerial meetings have been held, thus indicating that diplomatic initiatives have been established. After a few years of China unilaterally providing information, a joint Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) was also set up at the ministerial level in 2006 (interview with Indian expert on foreign policy development, June 2014). Between 2006 and 2014, eight meetings of the ELM were held for the purpose of helping India to use the data it was receiving to develop effective flood forecasts (Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (India), 2016). It should be noted that this mechanism was primarily made up of state-sponsored experts and hydrologists. It served to guarantee that bilateral cooperation was set up to exclude the involvement of experts who have no affiliations to either state2.

Hydrological information is the main form of water information shared between the two countries. Gradual progress was made between 2002 and 2014 in the volume of hydrological data provided. In 2005, China agreed to unilaterally provide data on the Sutluj and Langqen Zangbo rivers during the flood season for up to 5 years. Further, in 2013, China agreed to extend its provision of hydrological data from 15 May to 15 October every year on a daily basis, thus adding 15 days to an earlier agreement. The agreed sets of data have made it technically possible for India to predict water disasters and, hence, should serve to build trust between the two countries. The MOUs are recognized by the Indian Government, which in 2013 formally acknowledged that China's dam construction had no direct impact on water quantity in India (Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (India), 2016). The then Prime Minister, Singh, and the External Affairs Ministry reacted in a calm fashion consistent with the official position on the matter, persuading the Indian public that correct judgements were made about the significance of water competition with China.

We trust but we also verify. We have verified Chinese claims on the dam being run-of-the-river power project which does not store water. We are convinced that it is a run-of-the-river project’ (Mehdudia, 2011).

China has unilaterally provided water information during the monsoon season in a bid to eliminate India's concerns about water quantity and flooding in the Brahmaputra river basin. Nevertheless, China has also refused to consult India on its planning and managing of the upstream Brahmaputra within its territory. China has argued that the UN Convention on Law of Non-Navigation Use of International Watercourses (1997) is not useful for the purposes of resolving water disputes in practice (PRC, 2014). Heated discussions of this issue have been held in China with the intention of upholding the country's sovereign rights and to reject the suggestion that it should join the convention3.

Meanwhile, an evolution in India's approach to water diplomacy has been noticed with regard to its attitude toward the MOUs. Since the Modi government came to power, India's position has hardened and no further collaboration over water information disclosure has been conducted. Moreover, India has provoked China by requesting all-year-round hydrological data, such that would help India to monitor China's plans and management of the GBM from the upstream. As a result, China has not only declined the request but also halted promised cooperative initiatives over its recently built dams4.

India–Bangladesh case

India and Bangladesh have exhibited differing concerns about the management of the Ganges river. India's interests over the Ganges are closely linked to its planning and management of other large rivers within its territory, such as the Brahmaputra, where it is striving to develop large-scale hydropower potential to meet the country's increasing energy demands. As part of these plans, India intends to divert water from the Brahmaputra basin to the Ganges basin with the added benefit that doing so will increase agricultural production in the south-western states of India where water is scarce (Rahaman & Varis, 2009; Rahaman, 2012). Another of India's interests lies in building water storage reservoirs around the Brahmaputra basin in Bhutan and India (Rahaman, 2009, 2012; Rahaman & Varis, 2009). Agriculture is also a major focus of India's water management as it intends to divert water from the Brahmaputra basin to the Ganges basin to increase agricultural production. Additionally, India has shown a strategic interest toward Bangladesh with regard to water, which is a major source of the discord and tension they are experiencing in their bilateral relations. Thus, India's interests primarily lie in its political interests over water (IDSA, 2010).

In comparison, the two major water-related challenges faced by Bangladesh are to mitigate the impacts of flooding and ensure that enough water is available to address droughts. During the monsoon season there is a heightened risk of flooding5, which poses a threat to the agriculture, industry and economy of Bangladeshis living along the GBM. Conversely, during the dry season the country becomes severely water stressed due to low water availability, unsustainable upstream water withdrawal and low-quality groundwater. Accordingly, the two parties have struggled to reach an agreement on the optimum quantity of water to share while also intending to satisfy their respective demands. Bangladesh has objected to India's plans as its irrigation projects largely depend on the Brahmaputra during the dry season. In particular, the sharing of the dry season flow of the Tista river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, to meet the water requirements of both countries’ Tista irrigation projects has become a source of tension (Rahaman & Varis, 2009).

India and Bangladesh have experience in forming institutionalized arrangements in recent decades. One focal point of the disagreement between the two countries is Ganges water sharing during the dry season (December to May). India has set up a few treaties regarding the mechanisms and principles of water division with Bangladesh, including a 1977 agreement and two MOUs in which information disclosure was mentioned6. Although information disclosure was mentioned in the 1982 MOU, it was dropped in its replacement, the 1996 agreement. It was agreed that a Joint Rivers Committee was to collect water information to record flows at Farakka (Rahaman, 2009). Both countries agreed to incorporate ‘all valuable information’ although no specification was made, possibly recognizing that information on social values and the understandings of water uses is also indispensable for decision making. There is no mention of policy information from India when initiating projects to manage water within India.

In the absence of sanctions, India has taken unilateral initiatives to manage water resources within its territory. Although a number of formal arrangements have been made (Table 1), they were not complied with in India's planning and development of water management. Following a 1975 ministerial declaration, India diverted 310–450 m3/s of Ganges water from 21 April to 31 May 1975, to test the feeder canal of the Farakka Barrage. It continued unilateral diversion of the flow of the Ganges beyond the stipulated period throughout the 1976 dry season, withdrawing 1,133 m3/s of water (the full capacity of the feeder canal) at Farakka. As a result, Bangladesh sought international assistance to place sanctions on India. Bangladesh raised the issue at the United Nations on 26 November 1976, following which the UN General Assembly adopted a consensus statement directing both countries to urgently negotiate a fair and expeditious settlement of the Farakka problem so as to promote the well-being of the region (UN, 1976). In 1977, upon the direction of the United Nations, India and Bangladesh signed the 1977 Ganges Water Agreement for a duration of 5 years (Rahaman, 2006). Later on, Bangladesh raised the issue at the Commonwealth Summit held in Cyprus in October 1993, and again in October 1995 at the 50th UN General Assembly.

Table 1.

Political interactions between India and Bangladesh over water issues.

Timeline Outcome 
1951 Pakistan (Bangladesh after 1971) officially objected to India's plan to construct Farakka Barrage on 29 October 1951. 
1972 On 24 November 1972, India and Bangladesh signed statutes of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission (JRC). 
1977 Upon the direction of the United Nations, India and Bangladesh signed the 1977 Ganges Water Agreement for the duration of 5 years. 
1982 An MOU was signed between the two countries for sharing dry season flow of Ganges at Farakka in 1983 and 1984. 
1985 In November, an MOU was signed for 3 years (1986–1988), which expired on 31 May 1988. 
1993 Bangladesh raised the issue at the Commonwealth Summit held in Cyprus in October 1993. 
1996 An agreement on sharing the Ganges water at Farakka was signed for the duration of 30 years. 
Timeline Outcome 
1951 Pakistan (Bangladesh after 1971) officially objected to India's plan to construct Farakka Barrage on 29 October 1951. 
1972 On 24 November 1972, India and Bangladesh signed statutes of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission (JRC). 
1977 Upon the direction of the United Nations, India and Bangladesh signed the 1977 Ganges Water Agreement for the duration of 5 years. 
1982 An MOU was signed between the two countries for sharing dry season flow of Ganges at Farakka in 1983 and 1984. 
1985 In November, an MOU was signed for 3 years (1986–1988), which expired on 31 May 1988. 
1993 Bangladesh raised the issue at the Commonwealth Summit held in Cyprus in October 1993. 
1996 An agreement on sharing the Ganges water at Farakka was signed for the duration of 30 years. 

In 1982, the Bangladesh Government proposed augmentations of the dry season flow through building storage reservoirs in Nepal, whereas India made proposals to divert water from the Brahmaputra to the Ganges river. Nevertheless, Bangladesh remains worried that India has a plan to siphon off water from the Brahmaputra river as well as the Meghna river through the proposed River Interlinking Project or New Indian Line (Rahaman, 2009). It was not until November 1982 that an MOU was signed for 3 years (1986–1988), expiring on 31 May 1988. Bangladesh has continued to seek international assistance to sanction India, further raising the issue at the Commonwealth Summit held in Cyprus in October 1993. Later, on 23 October 1995, Bangladesh again raised its concerns at the 50th UN General Assembly about the negative consequences of India's unilateral water diversion at Farakka Barrage. There were no water sharing agreements between 1989 and 1996 (Rahaman, 2009).

In 1996, Bangladesh and India signed the Ganges Water Treaty which is valid for 30 years and designed to address issues of water sharing at the Farakka Barrage point. However, senior Bangladeshi officials are dissatisfied with India's sharing of information (Price et al., 2014), and claim that Bangladesh has never received the water it is due under the treaty (Ramachandran, 2006). Over roughly the same period, military tensions have arisen over the irrigation supply from the Tista (Daily Online Alochona, 2009). The frequency of warnings coming from Bangladesh indicates that it is on the verge of escalating its water conflict with India.

Very recently, owing to developments in regional cooperation, India and Bangladesh have begun to cooperate over the issue of managing their shared water resources. The intergovernmental mechanism, the Water Resources Management Joint Working Group (JWG) that is based on sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN), was set up in 2013. Its purpose is to explore the possibilities for its constituent countries to collaborate on hydropower development projects, trading power and inter-grid connectivity, and flood forecasting (Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Bangladesh), 2016). India has shown commitment to this attempt at multilateral institutional cooperation over the GBM. The exclusion of China, however, has been highlighted as a possible obstruction to realizing BBIN's ambitions for water resources management in the region (personal communication with water expert from Dhaka, May 2016).

Comparison of cases

The commonalities and differences revealed by the above case studies provide insights into the efficiency of collaborative water management. In this section, we will investigate the differences between WMIs formed in both cases and, further, their effectiveness as problem-solving tools.

When the two cases are compared, the China–India case has certainly touched upon trust building and merging interests, while in the India–Bangladesh case, only one area has been successful (see Table 2). Trust building is a common feature identified. In both cases, agreements have been formed for countries to share hydrological data. Responsible institutions, time periods and specific data have been clearly established in the China–India case. Initiatives to eliminate rivalry and mistrust have progressed more smoothly in the India–China case. In comparison, India and Bangladesh have not yet managed to reduce the mistrust that hangs over their severe competition for water quantity. The institutionalization has been weak in the India–Bangladesh case; the institution in charge has been formed, however, the time periods or specific items remain vague.

Table 2.

Comparison of WMIs in two cases.

  China–India India–Bangladesh 
Trust building Information sharing Information sharing 
Sanctions Unsuccessful Unsuccessful 
Initiatives of balancing differences Flood control Unsuccessful 
  China–India India–Bangladesh 
Trust building Information sharing Information sharing 
Sanctions Unsuccessful Unsuccessful 
Initiatives of balancing differences Flood control Unsuccessful 

In both cases, efforts to form sanction agreements have been relatively weak. In the India–China case, even though both countries are rising powers in direct competition with each other, their water disputes have not escalated into more serious kinds of conflict (e.g. military or diplomatic).

Both cases display commonality in the lack of cooperative agreement that may facilitate countries’ diverging interests in water management. When examining the differing concerns that have been shown in each country's water management, the two cases differ (see Table 3). In the India–China case, the two countries have shown more congruence in their preferences over sharing water than in the other case, which has allowed them to develop some degree of trust over the sharing of the Brahmaputra, albeit for a short period of time. China's cooperative water interactions are primarily driven by its interest in consolidating its bilateral relations with India, even though it unilaterally provides water information to India without any equivalent obligation on the Indian side7. For India, flood control is a key concern. Since little competition exists between India and China over water quantity, both have managed to accommodate their interests through water agreements. Therefore, the signed MOUs agree to promote flood prevention and they serve to bridge both countries’ varying interests in water management.

Table 3.

Preferences in water management over the GBM system.

  China–Brahmaputra India–Brahmaputra India with Bangladesh over the GBM region Bangladesh with India over the GBM region 
Concerns in water resource management Flood control; hydropower exploration Flood control; hydropower exploration Flood management; hydropower development; irrigation and agriculture; security concerns Drought control; flood management; irrigation and agriculture; ecosystem 
  China–Brahmaputra India–Brahmaputra India with Bangladesh over the GBM region Bangladesh with India over the GBM region 
Concerns in water resource management Flood control; hydropower exploration Flood control; hydropower exploration Flood management; hydropower development; irrigation and agriculture; security concerns Drought control; flood management; irrigation and agriculture; ecosystem 

In contrast, the situation between India and Bangladesh is more complicated, and particularly marked by disagreements over developing intra-basin links between the Brahmaputra and Ganga. As both countries are faced with pressing situations in water management, their interest in WMIs is significantly less congruent than that between India and China (see Table 3). However, apart from information sharing as a gesture to develop trust between the two countries, India and Bangladesh have failed to negotiate on balancing their differences in water management, or establishing sanctions to enforce compliance.

Regarding the effectiveness of the WMIs, the India–China case has shown more success than the India–Bangladesh case, albeit for a short period of time. Considering that more areas are covered, the China–India WMIs have gained more success than the other case and hence have been more effective in quenching disagreements. In the India–Bangladesh case, disagreements over the monitoring of information, sanctions and the general balancing of both countries’ preferences have marred their relationship.

In regions where political instability exists, the formation of WMIs is characterized by countries’ combined interests in water management and geopolitical concerns. The three aspects have shown varying extent of significance. Building trust, therefore, remains the most important factor related to the outcomes of such cooperative initiatives.

The balancing of different parties’ interests also plays a significant role in collaboration in water management. This is a necessary condition for successful WMIs to be formed, particularly in situations where various incentives exist for cooperation. This is particularly the case where fierce competition over water quantity exists. In the India–China case, where river features are a less serious concern, both countries have made adjustments to their foreign policy agendas in response to water issues to maximize their national interests. A combination of power and interests in water resource collaboration can thus be seen. Hence, it is highly necessary to form institutions that make countries negotiate areas of common interests to develop collaborative water resources management. Developing an issue-link between benefit sharing and securing water quantity may be a useful approach to finding middle ground and mediating disputes. Particularly in the India–Bangladesh case, this could help to break the deadlock that persists over the two countries’ competition for water.

Conclusion

Water sharing is combined with various issues in countries’ political agendas. Water institutions, as a set of agreed rules, promote incentives for collaboration, provide guidance and regulate countries’ behaviour. In this article, we examined what features of WMIs are likely to lead to compliance and effective resolution of water disagreements. Key features of successful WMIs have been reviewed. Cases of India–China and India–Bangladesh water sharing have been adopted for analysis. A comparison of the cases is conducted. As both cases are located in Asia, they also help us to generalize our findings on what constitutes successful WMIs in the global South.

The findings of this article also suggest that the effectiveness of collaboration depends on inclusion of all three of the key areas of collaborative water management. Without developing substantial diplomatic interactions in the areas of trust building and balancing differences between countries’ water management, the effectiveness of the water agreements remains rather limited. Similarly, the effectiveness of collaboration cannot simply be assessed by the level of institutionalization that has been reached.

In both cases the cooperative arrangements have been undermined by their weaknesses. As a result, foreign relations have not improved. In the India–Bangladesh case, given that India has a greater military capacity, Bangladesh's expectations about what can be achieved through collaboration will likely be lower than those of the Indian side (personal communication with water expert in Dhaka). Seen from this perspective, while the WMIs might have served to temporarily reduce tensions between India and Bangladesh, India's foremost intention remains to preserve its dominant position in any potential collaboration with Bangladesh. India's intention to push the Ganges Water Treaty is seen by Bangladesh as one-sided in that it would bring large benefits to India while disadvantaging Bangladesh. It may thus be inferred that India has shown strategic non-compliance behaviour toward Bangladesh in their water disputes and that India's interests are directed not only at satisfying its own water management needs, but also at meeting its political interests in acquiring influence over Bangladesh (IDSA, 2010). From this perspective, the nature of the water agreement thus becomes, as Selby (2003) puts it, a ‘matter of domination’, such that it is unlikely to improve the two countries’ relations at the broader political level (Rowlands, 2001; O'Neill, 2009).

1

These include: UN Watercourses Convention (1997), Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses; UNECE (1992), The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes; International Law Association (1996).

2

The Indian side is led by the Commissioner, Ministry of Water Resources, while in China, it is led by the Director, International Economic and Technical Cooperation and Exchange Center, Ministry of Water Resources.

3

The few water-related international agreements that China is a party of include: Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Conventions, 1971), (but enlist wetland depending on its use); Convention on Biological Diversity.

4

China has indicated that it was possible to provide hydrological data on another two sites, Yarlung Tsangpo and Lohit.

5

The Brahmaputra river basin is prone to flooding, in particular as a result of flood control and management in the Assam State, India.

6

These are the 1983 and 1985 MOUs.

7

Interview with expert on India studies from Shanghai Institute of International Relations and scientist from China Academy of Science in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

References

References
Bandyopadhyay
,
J.
&
Ghosh
,
N.
, (
2009
).
Holistic engineering and hydro-diplomacy in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin
.
Economic and Political Weekly
44
(
45
),
50
60
.
Berardo
,
R.
&
Gerlak
,
A
, . (
2012
).
Conflict and cooperation along international rivers: crafting a model of institutional effectiveness
.
Global Environmental Politics
12
(
2
),
101
120
.
Bernauer
,
T.
&
Siefried
,
T.
, (
2008
).
Compliance and performance in international water agreements: the case of the Naryn/Syr Darya Basin
.
Global Governance
14
,
479
501
.
Biswas
,
A.
,
Rangachari
,
R.
&
Sainju
,
M.
, (eds) (
2001
).
Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna Region: A Framework for Sustainable Development
.
University Press Limited
,
Dhaka
Brochmann
,
M.
&
Gleditsch
,
N.
, (
2006
).
Shared rivers and international cooperation
. In:
Paper Presented at the 47th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association
,
San Diego, CA
.
Burton
,
M.
&
Molden
,
D.
, (
2005
).
Making sound decisions: information needs for basin water management
. In:
Irrigation and River Basin Management: Options for Governance and Institutions
.
Svendsen
,
M.
(ed.).
Cabi Publishing
,
Massachusetts
, pp.
51
74
.
Chowdhury
,
N.
, (
2010
).
Water management in Bangladesh: an analytical review
.
Water Policy
12
(
1
),
32
51
.
Daily Online Alochona
(
2009
).
Available at: http://dailyalochona.blogspot.co.uk/2009_12_19_archive.html (accessed 19 January 2018)
.
Dietz
,
T.
,
Ostrom
,
E.
&
Stern
,
P.
, (
2003
).
The struggle to govern the commons
.
Science
302
(
5652
),
1907
1912
.
Ganges Water Treaty
(
1996
).
Treaty between the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of India on sharing of the Ganga/Ganges Waters at Farakka
. .
Gourdji
,
S.
,
Knowlton
,
C.
&
Platt
,
K.
, (
2005
).
Indian Inter-Linking of Rivers: A Preliminary Evaluation
.
Unpublished manuscript
,
University of Michigan
,
Ann Arbor, MI
.
Haftendorn
,
H.
, (
2000
).
Water and international conflict
.
Third World Quarterly
21
(
1
),
51
68
.
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)
(
2010
).
Water Security for India: The External Dynamics
.
IDSA
,
New Delhi
,
India
.
Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA)
(
2012
).
Global Water Security. IC Coordinated Paper
.
Available at: http://fas.org/irp/nic/water.pdf (accessed 5 September 2016)
.
International Law Association
(
1996
).
The Helsinki Rules on the Use of the Waters of International Rivers, Report of the 52nd Conference 484 (1967)
. .
Jia
,
S.
,
Lv
,
A.
,
Han
,
Y.
,
Long
,
Q.
,
Zhu
,
W.
&
Yan
,
H.
, (
2014
).
Water Resources Security Report of China
.
Science Press
,
Beijing
.
Mehdudia
,
S.
, (
2011
).
We Trust China's Promise on dam: Manmohan. The Hindu, 5 August
. .
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Bangladesh)
(
2016
).
The Third Joint Working Group (JWG) Meetings on Sub-Regional Cooperation Between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) (Dhaka, 19–20 January 2016)
. .
Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (India)
(
2016
).
India-China Co-operation
.
Available at: http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=349 (accessed 5 September 2016)
.
Mitchell
,
S.
&
Zawahri
,
N.
, (
2015
).
The effectiveness of treaty design in addressing water disputes
.
Journal of Peace Research
52
(
2
),
187
200
.
Mostert
,
E
, . (
2003
).
Conflict and co-operation in international freshwater management: a global review
.
International Journal of River Basin Management
1
(
3
),
267
278
.
National Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science (PRC)
(
2014
).
China will not benefit from joining UNECE. Available at: http://www.npopss-cn.gov.cn/n/2014/1120/c373410-26063372.html (accessed 5 September 2016)
.
O'Neill
,
K.
, (
2009
).
The Environment and International Relations
.
Cambridge University Press
,
Cambridge
,
UK
.
Ovodenko
,
A.
, (
2014
).
Regional water cooperation: creating incentives for integrated management
.
Journal of Conflict Resolution
60
(
6
),
1
28
.
Price
,
G.
,
Alam
,
R.
,
Hasan
,
S.
,
Humayun
,
F.
,
Kabir
,
M.
,
Karki
,
C.
,
Mittra
,
S.
,
Saad
,
T.
,
Saleem
,
M.
,
Saran
,
S.
,
Shakya
,
P.
,
Snow
,
C.
&
Tuladhar
,
S.
, (
2014
).
Attitudes to Water in South Asia
.
Chatham House
,
London
,
UK
.
Raadgever
,
G. T.
,
Mostert
,
E.
,
Kranz
,
N.
,
Inerwies
,
E.
&
Timmerman
,
J.
, (
2008
).
Assessing management regimes in transboundary river basins: do they support adaptive management?
Ecology and Society
13
(
1
),
14
.
Rahaman
,
M.
, (
2006
).
The Ganges water conflict: a comparative analysis of 1977 agreement and 1997 treaty
.
Asteriskos
1/2
,
195
208
.
Rahaman
,
M.
, (
2012
).
Hydropower ambitions of South Asian nations and China: Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers basins
.
International Journal of Sustainable Society
4
(
1/2
),
131
157
.
Ramachandran
,
S.
, (
2006
).
India, Bangladesh fight against the current. Asia Times, 8 June. Available at: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/HF08Df04.html (accessed 1 October 2017)
.
Ramsar Conventions
(
1971
).
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Ramsar, Iran, as amended in 1982 and 1987
. .
Rowlands
,
I.
, (
2001
).
Classical theories of international relations
. In:
International Relations and Global Climate Change
.
Luterbacher
,
U.
&
Sprinz
,
D.
(eds).
The MIT Press
,
Cambridge, MA
, pp.
43
66
.
Selby
,
J.
, (
2003
).
Water, Power and Politics in the Middle East: The Other Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
.
I.B. Tauris and Co
.,
London
,
UK
.
Song
,
J.
&
Whittington
,
D.
, (
2004
).
Why have some countries on international rivers been successful negotiating treaties? A global perspective
.
Water Resources Research
40
(
5)
,
1
18
.
Sun
,
J.
,
Jia
,
S.
&
Lv
,
A.
, (
2011
).
Information extraction and analysis of the Himalayan international rivers. (Ximalaya diqu guoji heliu xinxitiqu yu fenxi.)
South-to-North Water Transfers and Water Science & Technology
9
(
3
),
33
38
.
UNECE
(
1992
).
The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention). Available at: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/water/pdf/watercon.pdf (accessed 19 January 2018)
.
United Nations (UN)
(
1976
).
Situation Arising Out of the Unilateral Withdrawal of the Ganges Waters at Farakka: Consensus Statement, adopted by the UN General Assembly
. In:
Thirty First Session, Eightieth Meeting
,
Agenda Item 11, (1976) 26 November. Available at: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/667154/files/A_31_359-EN.pdf (accessed 19 January 2018).
UN Watercourses Convention
(
1997
).
Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, New York. Available at: https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/1998/09/19980925%2006-30%20PM/Ch_XXVII_12p.pdf (accessed 19 January 2018)
.
Wolf
,
A.
,
Kramer
,
A.
,
Carius
,
A.
&
Dabelko
,
G.
, (
2005
).
Managing water conflict and cooperation
. In:
State of the World: Redefining Global Security
.
Starke
,
L.
(ed.).
W.W. Norton and Company
,
New York, NY
, pp.
80
95
.
Zeitoun
,
M.
&
Mirumachi
,
N.
, (
2008
).
Transboundary water interaction I: reconsidering conflict and cooperation
.
International Environmental Agreements
8
(
4
),
297
316
.