Partnering for River Basin Governance in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Partnering for River Basin Governance in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

An Australian consortium of Australian Water Partnership Partners—led by Aither with eWater and the Institute for Study and Development Worldwide (IFSD)—is working with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and DFAT to enhance cooperation and strengthen river basin governance arrangements in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region.

The HKH spans 3,500km across eight countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan—and is the source of ten of Asia’s largest rivers as well as the largest volume of ice and snow outside of the Arctic and Antarctica. Together these rivers support the drinking water, irrigation, energy, industry and sanitation needs of two billion people.

The region itself is home to around 240 million people who depend on ecosystem resources and services to sustain their livelihoods, however, administrative boundaries and transboundary water governance arrangements make it difficult to tackle hazards and risks in transboundary rivers.

The project is supported by the AWP and will strengthen upstream-downstream river basin governance arrangements and enhance crucial inter-basin cooperation between the ten river basins that have headwaters originating in the HKH.

The Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. Hussain, Abid & Rasul, Golam & Mahapatra, Bidhubhusan & Tuladhar, Sabarnee. (2016). Household food security in the face of climate change in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. Figure 1. Accessed 31 Aug 2021. DOI:10.1007/s12571-016-0607-5


ICIMOD Regional Programme Manager Dr Arun Bhakta Shrestha expressed his support for the project by saying, “We promote regional cooperation for better river basin governance to address these complex issues. Our collaboration with Aither and AWP will document the benefits and barriers to regional cooperation, and contribute to ongoing studies and discourses on transboundary river systems”.

The project has four key objectives: 1) to share best practices for strengthening the barriers to effective upstream-downstream governance and climate challenges; 2) to develop high-level guidelines for how riparian states can adopt climate-resilient basins and inter-basin approaches to sustainable development; 3) to provide recommendations to strengthen the evidence base for improved decision making both within basins and between basins; and 4) to develop plans for resilient river basins that consider COVID-19 challenges, gender equality, disability and social inclusion.

High-level reports will be developed for five basins—Brahmaputra, Indus, Ganges, Mekong and Amu Darya—addressing the first two objectives. The Brahmaputra, Indus, and Ganges basins will also be the subjects of detailed reports addressing all four objectives. These basins were selected based on ICIMOD priorities and strategies discussed with the project team, and guided by a river basin selection matrix.

“We look forward to working with ICIMOD to enhance the status and effectiveness of river basin governance in the region. This collaboration between Australia and ICIMOD will help to draw attention to the importance and urgency of climate adaptation in some of the world’s most populous river basins,” said Aither Director and Project Lead Will Fargher.

AWP, DFAT and ICIMOD signed a Memorandum of Understanding in April 2019 to strengthen bilateral cooperation between Australia and HKH countries. The AWP-supported project on River Basin Governance is the first official activity to be implemented under this partnership and will join a second activity on Integrated River Basin Management training.

Feature image: View of the Indus River from the Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan, taken in August 2019 (credit: Adobe Stock / Lukas)

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