The majority of the literature on transboundary water governance suggests that more often than not the benefits of cooperation between riparian states vastly outweigh the costs. Evidence also suggests that investing in transboundary water cooperation and management makes good business sense. Why then, is it still so hard to make the case for financial resources to flow towards cooperation over shared waters in the long term?
Benefits of transboundary cooperation are not easily valued and quantified
Evidence and experience related to cooperation over shared water resources points towards a multitude of economic, social, environmental, regional development and peace and security benefits (follow the link for a graphic outlining some of the most common of these). However, as will be the case with all benefits that do not rely on straightforward transactions, it is not easy to directly attribute values and quantify the benefits of transboundary water cooperation. First, there is no universally accepted benefits assessment framework. Second, the concept of net benefits is risky at best as there will always be trade-offs, and with that, relative winners and losers. Third, attributing a monetary value can exacerbate inequalities and may possibly raise tensions between States.
Certain benefits are also more easily quantified, which may mean they get prioritised to ensure quick wins and to service the political need for a successful story. This is often the case with economic benefits. However, without a complete picture of the suite of benefits and the trade-offs between these, balance between economic, social and environmental goals is unlikely to be achieved. Examples exist for hydropower where social and environmental risks historically received less attention than the perceived economic gains associated with building dams.
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