Ganges Basin: insights from the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database

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Contributor Perspective(s): Academic
Article last edited 13 Nov 2012 by Mpritchard
Article originally added by Mpritchard

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This article is linked to Negotiations and Agreements Between Ganges River Basin Riparians

The points below are summarized or excerpted from the Oregon State University Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD). Matthew Pritchard provided this and other summarized analysis or insights from the TFFD on behalf and with permission of the original authors. Available on-line at:

Lessons Learned

  • Unequal power relationships, without strong third-party involvement, create strong dis-incentives for cooperation.
  • India, the stronger party both Geo-strategically and hydro-strategically, has little incentive to reach agreement with Bangladesh. Without strong third-party involvement, such as that of the World Bank between India and Pakistan on the Indus, the dispute has gone on for years.
  • Requests for increasingly detailed data clarifications can be an effective delaying tactic.
  • Agreeing on the minimum data necessary for a solution, or delegating the task of data-gathering to a third party may speed the pace of negotiations. India used the veracity and detail of data as an effective tactic in postponing a long-term solution with Bangladesh. Interestingly, India was able to surmount this problem on the Indus by stipulating that data could be used in an agreement, without agreeing to its accuracy.
  • Likewise, insisting on bilateral negotiations, as opposed to watershed-wide negotiations, favors the party with greater power.
  • India has insisted on separate negotiations with each of the riparians of its international rivers. It was thus able to come to arrangements with Nepal on Ganges tributaries without considering Bangladeshi needs.
  • Agreeing early on the appropriate diplomatic level for negotiations is an important step in the pre-negotiation phase.
  • Much of the negotiations between India and Pakistan and, later, India and Bangladesh, were spent trying to resolve the question of what was the appropriate diplomatic level for negotiations.
Short-term agreements which stipulate that the terms are not permanent can be useful steps in long-term solutions. However, a mechanism for continuation of the temporary agreement in the absence of a long-term agreement is crucial.
Agreements on the distribution of Ganges waters have been short in duration, providing initial impetus for signing, but providing difficulties when they lapse.

Creative outcomes resulting from resolution process

The 1977 Ganges Waters Agreement was reached perhaps more quickly specifically as a short-term agreement, and specifying that it was not establishing any precedents.