Complexity of Transboundary Water Conflicts

Complexity of Transboundary Water Conflicts

Enabling Conditions for Negotiating Contingent Resolutions

Edited by Enamul Choudhury & Shafiqul Islam
Foreword by Lawrence Susskind

Science Diplomacy: Managing Food

Energy and Water Sustainably

‘Complexity of Transboundary Water Conflicts’ seeks to understand transboundary water issues as complex systems with contingent conditions and possibilities. To address those conditions and leverage the possibilities it introduces the concept of enabling conditions as a pragmatic way to identify and act on the emergent possibilities to resolve transboundary water issues.

Paperback, 292 Pages


May 2020

£25.00, $40.00

  • About This Book
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About This Book

‘Complexity of Transboundary Water Conflicts’ seeks to understand transboundary water governance as complex systems with contingent conditions and possibilities. To address those conditions and leverage the possibilities it introduces the concept of enabling conditions as a pragmatic way to identify and act on the emergent possibilities to resolve transboundary water issues.

Based on this theoretical frame, the book applies ideas and tools from complexity science, contingency and enabling conditions to account for events in the formulation of treaties/agreements between disputing riparian states in river basins across the world (Indus, Jordan, Nile, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Colorado, Danube, Senegal and Zayandehrud). It also includes a section on scholars’ reflections on the relevance and weakness of the theoretical framework.

The book goes beyond the conventional use of the terms ‘complexity’, ‘contingency’ and ‘enabling conditions’ and anchors them in their theoretical foundations. The argument distinguishes itself from the conventional meaning and usage of the terms of necessary and sufficient conditions in causal explanations. The book’s focus is to identify conditions that set the stage to move from the world of seemingly infinite possibilities to actionable reality. Three enabling conditions – active recognition of interdependence, mutual value creation through negotiation and adaptive governance through learning – are identified and explored for their meaning and function in specific transboundary water disputes.


“It is common to assert that context matters when addressing complex water problems. But, less has been done on discussing why and how it matters. Here, the editors––an engineer and a social scientist––delight the readers by taking a refreshingly new look at why and how. The book helps us appreciate the complexity of transboundary water disputes and improve our understanding of them.”
—Kaveh Madani, Visiting Professor, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, UK

“A comprehensive and thorough treatment of the complex problem of transboundary water diplomacy. Essential reading for anyone wishing to better understand and address the challenges of sharing water across borders.”
—Scott Moore, Director, Penn Global China Program, University of Pennsylvania, USA

“Resolution of disputes regarding management water resources of transboundary river basins between co-riparian countries is a complex process, predominantly controlled by political process prevailing in the region. Useful lessons can be learnt from case studies where such disputes have been effectively resolved. The book contains useful case studies, and situation analyses based on them, that may guide thinking process towards creation of enabling environment.”
—Ainun Nishat, Former Vice Chancellor, BRAC University, Bangladesh

“This book makes a compelling case against the search for a general theory of transboundary water management. Instead, [the authors] show how complexity science and contingent analysis help us to think and act in context-specific terms for actionable outcome.”
—Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, MIT, USA

Author Information

Enamul Choudhury is a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Wright State University, USA. His teaching areas include courses in the master of public administration program and political science.

Shafiqul Islam is professor of civil and environmental engineering and professor of water diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA. Director of the Water Diplomacy Program, Islam works on availability, access and allocation of water within the context of climate challenges, health and diplomacy.


Science Diplomacy: Managing Food

Energy and Water Sustainably

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations; Foreword, Lawrence Susskind; Prologue, Enamul Choudhury and Shafiqul Islam; Part I The Conceptual Argument of the Book and a Case Illustration; Chapter One Complexity and Contingency: Understanding Transboundary Water Issues, Shafiqul Islam and Enamul Choudhury; Chapter Two The Meaning and Logic of Enablement to Explain Complexity and Contingent Actions, Enamul Choudhury and Shafiqul Islam; Chapter Three Bridging Complexity and Contingency: Role of Three Enabling Conditions to Resolve Water Confl icts in the Indus and Jordan Basins, Enamul Choudhury and Shafi qul Islam; Part II River Basins around the World: Case Studies; Chapter Four The Resolve to Cooperate on Danube: Enabling Conditions for Transboundary Water Cooperation, Tahira Syed; Chapter Five Governance of the Brahmaputra Sub- basin: Exploring the Enabling Conditions, Nilanjan Ghosh and Jayanta Bandyopadhyay; Chapter Six The Ganges River Water Sharing Agreement between Bangladesh and India: In Search of New Mechanisms to Meet New Challenges, Ashok Swain; Chapter Seven Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the GERD: Interdependence or Leveling the Nile Basin Playing Field?, Salman M. A. Salman; Chapter Eight Refl ections on the Colorado River, Kevin Wheeler; Part III Critical Refl ection on the Argument of Complexity and Contingency and the Role of Enabling Conditions; Chapter Nine Building a Shared Understanding in Water Management, Bruno Verdini; Chapter Ten Zayandehrud Water Issues: How Can a Negotiated Approach Be Developed?, Mehdi Fasihi Harandi; Chapter Eleven Refl ections on Enabling Conditions through the Lens of Power Asymmetry, Naho Mirumachi; Chapter Twelve Is the Engagement of Third Parties an Enabling Condition of Transboundary Water Cooperation?, Paula Hanasz; Chapter Thirteen From Pulp to Paper: How Understanding Laws Enhances Cooperation and Enables Water Security, Alexandra Campbell- Ferrari and Luke Wilson; Epilogue, Shafi qul Islam and Enamul Choudhury; Notes on Contributors; Index.


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