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The Politics of River Basin Organisations

The Politics of River Basin Organisations

Coalitions, Institutional Design Choices and Consequences

Edited by Dave Huitema and Sander Meijerink

Can River Basin Organisations (RBOs) actually improve water governance? RBOs are frequently layered on top of existing governmental organisations, which are often reluctant to share their power. This, in turn, can affect their performance. The Politics of River Basin Organisations addresses this issue by exploring the subject on a global level.

Chapter 1: The politics of river basin organisations: institutional design choices, coalitions and consequences

Dave Huitema and Sander Meijerink

Subjects: environment, environmental governance and regulation, environmental politics and policy, management natural resources, water, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


Water and human development are inextricably linked. Human settlement tends to concentrate along rivers and coasts. This is because water offers fertile soils, opportunities for irrigation, and possibilities for transport and trade. To use the possibilities of the water as much as possible and to reduce the risks associated with human settlement close to water, social organisation and systems of governance are required. Arguably because water is such a crucial element in societal development, many ancient societies had to make decisions about their water management organisations early. The degree to which organisations founded for water management influence later traditions of governing is under debate. Some have claimed that the organisation of water management, which can be centralised and focused on large-scale infrastructure or, alternatively, decentralised and focused on local management, determined the governance system of entire empires (Wittfogel 1957). But others suggest that it is rather the other way around, in the sense that societies with accomplished hierarchical governance structures were better able to develop centralised infrastructures for managing water and thus to control their water environment. Whatever the protracted history of water management and its importance for broader historical patterns of governance that have emerged since ancient times, the advent of the nation state (depending on the country in question, this took place in most cases in the eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth centuries) was a significant development, and in most cases a serious break from the traditions of the past.

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