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date of issue September 24, 2008

Hydrology of the World's International River Basins: Hydrological parameters for use in global studies of international water-relations / K. Stahl (Oregon State University, now at: Universtitaet Freiburg, Institut fuer Hydrologie, Freiburg, Germany)

Recommended citation: Stahl (2007): Hydrology of the World's International River Basins: Hydrological parameters for use in global studies of international water-relations / K. Stahl, (Oregon State University, now at: Universtitaet Freiburg, Institut fuer Hydrologie, Freiburg, Germany), Global Runoff Data Centre. Koblenz, Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG), 2008.

Water is vital for life and should be managed as a common property. However, the use of water has a political dimension. In some regions of the world, water is considered as a strategic resource and tensions between countries can arise over water ownership and water rights. Competition over scarce or poorly allocated resources can lead to disputes and insecurity.
Approximately one third of 263 trans-boundary river basins are shared by more than two countries. The first World Water Development Report (WWDR) published by UNESCO in 2003 mentioned 1,831 interactions (both conflict-laden and cooperative) over the last fifty years: 7 disputes have involved violence, and 507 conflictive events have occurred. At the regional and international level, many river basin authorities are developing integrated, cooperative approaches to manage the shared resource. Approximately 200 treaties have been signed, with a total of 1,228 cooperative events. This assessment bases on the largest empirical study of water conflict and cooperation, completed in 2001 at Oregon State University. With the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University, developed a database, which includes water related treaties between countries and all reported conflictive and cooperative events in the world’s international river basins. This comprehensive database provides the opportunity to study the link between hydrologic conditions and water-related political conflicts and cooperation.

The degree of dispute or cooperation over water from transboundary rivers is often attributed to unfavourable hydrologic conditions such as water scarcity or the occurrence of floods and droughts. In her study Kerstin Stahl identified and tested for the world’s international river basins hydrological and hydro-climatic parameters suitable to indicate whether and if so how certain hydrologic conditions can trigger, exacerbate or enhance political conflict and cooperation between countries sharing a river. The parameters focus on rapid and gradual changes in the intra-annual and inter-annual discharge and precipitation variability and the occurrence of rare extremes (floods and droughts). To find whether, under which conditions, and in which direction a certain parameter influences water-related conflict and cooperation, a special test procedure was developed. The risk for conflict in the international river basins of the world under the effect of climate and other environmental change will be evaluated.

The GRDC is happy to have been able to support this study by an appropriate set of river discharge data. The GRDC likes to thank Kerstin Stahl for her work and the permission to publish the results in its report series. We believe that the geopolitical aspects of water scarcity and water allocation and the modeling of a ‘risk for conflict in a basin’ will attract wide interest.

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