About the Project

Transnational Policy Dialogue for Improved Water Governance of Brahmaputra River

The Brahmaputra River Basin, the mainstream of which originates from the Tibetan Plateau, is the biggest trans-Himalayan river basin, encompassing parts of the territory, ecosystems, people, economies and politics of China, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The basin covers an area of 651,335 km2 and is home to about 118 million people with a density of 182 people/km2.

The region has many significant and often related social challenges which include floods and water scarcity; population growth and poor infrastructure; food insecurity and poverty; social uprising and insurgency; labour migration; ethnic minority disenchantment; unsustainable traditional land use practices; HIV-AIDS and other public health problems; border disputes and resource conflicts.

The basin is inhabited by many indigenous peoples, who have traditionally engaged in nomadic and agro-pastoralist practices in the upstream regions of Tibet, China, shifting cultivation in the upper-middle in northeast India, terraced agriculture in the middle mountains of Nepal and Bhutan, and intensive rice paddy and fish cultivation in the downstream reaches in Bangladesh. The total water supply in the basin varies from 1,700 to 4,000 m3/yearper person, indicating adequate water availability throughout the basin. However, the basin is characterized by large seasonal fluctuation in water availability due to the very wet monsoon and the extremely dry winter.

The issue of hydropower has also acquired great significant in the area. For example, about half of Bhutan’s national revenue depends on hydropower that is generated from waters contributing to the flows of the basin. In total 11 large dams larger than 60m or with an installed capacity of more than 100MW, are currently under construction or are planned. The Brahmaputra mainstream is also navigable in the lower parts in Bangladesh and India (mainly Assam) and in that way also serves as an economic corridor.

Key challenges for sustainable management of the basin include conflicts over water, which are increasing both within and between countries. Conflict is looming large over sustained growth in water and energy demand, interference with natural river flows from dams, inter-basin water transfers, water diversions, deforestation and floods, altered sediment and nutrient loads. Livelihoods are already impacted by changes to hydrology from erosion and to the ecology from deforestation and plantation. Food production systems, cultural identity, rural economies have all seen dramatic changes in recent years, with more changes likely in the time to come. Among the most powerful contemporary forces shaping both local cultures, livelihoods, land-use and ecosystem are various government policies and the expansion of regional, national and international markets. A dialogue between the different stakeholders from neighboring countries is critical for the smooth functioning of the basin.

Goals and Objectives

The overall goal of this project is to influence policies for joint management of Brahmaputra River by Bangladesh, India and other countries who contribute to the flow of the river. In order to do this, the first step is to secure water resource and to develop collective information in the Brahmaputra basin through improved water dialogue contributing to collective knowledge of the basin. This collective knowledge would provide insights into co-management of this trans-boundary river.

The objectives of this project are:

  • To establish a regional knowledge base and network of actors to inform Brahmaputra-related dialogues and influence its policy for co-management of the river;
  • To facilitate and support inclusive governance forums for learning about issues critical to the future of Brahmaputra River’s water resources, people and ecosystems dependent on them;
  • To enhance capability of key actors to develop people-centered and ecosystem-friendly policies by having cross border dialogues;
  • To write about the need for co-management of Brahmaputra River using popular and\or internet based medium such as blogs, newspaper articles or online portals.


Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM), Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Dhaka, Bangladesh is the oldest and leading university in Bangladesh in technology. The Institute of Flood Control and Drainage Research was established in 1974 in BUET, and renamed Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM) in 2002. IWFM is a premier institute for the advancement of knowledge and development of human resources in water and flood management. A Climate Change Study Cell has been recently established at IWFM. IWFM will be collaborative institution in this project.

IIT-Guwahati, India is an autonomous engineering & technology-oriented institute of higher education established, located in Guwahati, in Assam, India. It is the sixth Indian Institute of Technology established in India. At present more than 3800 students are enrolled and about 300 faculty staff are working in eleven research departments. The Institute has been catering to the contemporary research need through its teaching as well as research programmes.

The South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies is a policy research institute based at Hyderabad, India and working on the issues of water resources education, capacity building, research and action in South Asia. It is committed to bringing about structural changes in the dominant water resources management paradigm in South Asia by focusing on transforming water resources knowledge systems through working with universities and academic institutions. The key ideas are an interdisciplinary approach to understanding water resources issues from a pro-poor, gendered and human development perspective with emphasis on exchange, interaction and collaboration at South Asia level. SaciWATERs is active in three domains – Education, Research and Advocacy.