King’s Water members publish on transboundary water interactions

Three members of King’s Water, Dr Naho Mirumachi, Senior Visiting Fellow Nate Matthews, and PhD candidate Becca Farnum, have just published a paper co-authored with members of the London Water Research Group.

“Transboundary Water Interaction III: Contest and Compliance” comes from the Seventh International Workshop on Hydro-Hegemony: Contesting Hegemony. Mark Zeitoun of the University of East Anglia, lead author, describes the paper as something like “the outcome of a discussion between Antonio Gramsci and Gene Sharpe, as they oberve things on a paddle down the Nile”.

The paper should be of interest to anyone interested in the research, analysis, or resolution of water conflicts, as it

  • highlights just how dynamic transboundary water arrangements (even hegemonic ones) can be, giving hope that inequitable arrangements can change;
  • emphasises that not all change will necessarily lead to more equitable arrangements;
  • explains how transboundary water arrangements change, by classifying contest of or compliance to them (the why comes in the previous and subsequent papers in the series); and
  • sheds light on processes that could be encouraged or discouraged in order to develop conflict-resolution and / or counter-hegemonic strategies.

The paper serves international water conflict resolution efforts by examining the ways that states contest hegemonic transboundary water arrangements. The conceptual framework of dynamic transboundary water interaction that it presents integrates theories about change and counter-hegemony to ascertain coercive, leverage, and liberating mechanisms through which contest and transformation of an arrangement occur. While the mechanisms can be active through sociopolitical processes either of compliance or of contest of the arrangement, most transboundary water interaction is found to contain elements of both. The role of power asymmetry is interpreted through classification of intervention strategies that seek to either influence or challenge the arrangements. Coexisting contest and compliance serve to explain in part the stasis on the Jordan and Ganges rivers (where the non-hegemons have in effect consented to the arrangement), as well as the changes on the Tigris and Mekong rivers, and even more rapid changes on the Amu Darya and Nile rivers (where the non-hegemons have confronted power asymmetry through influence and challenge). The framework also stresses how transboundary water events that may appear isolated are more accurately read within the many sociopolitical processes and arrangements they are shaped by. By clarifying the typically murky dynamics of interstate relations over transboundary waters, the framework exposes a new suite of entry points for hydro-diplomatic initiatives. The authors find that non-hegemonic state and non-state actors alike involved in most transboundary water arrangements are found to both comply and contest with arrangements, what they call co-existing contest and compliance.

The paper is published in International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics and is available for open access download from Springer:


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