Tropical Geography ›› 2019, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (6): 919-930.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003194

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Review and Prospects of a Study on International River Basin Organizations

Zhang Yichi1,2,3, Cao Hui1,2,3(), Chen Jianglong1,2,3, Zheng Liyuan4, An Zhao5, Huang Dankui1,2,3   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Watershed Geographic Sciences, CAS, Nanjing 210008, China
    2. Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, CAS, Nanjing 210008, China
    3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    4. Business School of Hohai University, Nanjing 211100, China
    5. Institute of Geophysics, China Earthquake Administration, Beijing 100081, China
  • Received:2019-05-21 Revised:2019-10-24 Online:2019-11-10 Published:2019-12-26
  • Contact: Cao Hui


Conflict and cooperation are core issues in the study of international rivers. Increasingly more policy makers are in favor of an International River Basin Organization (IRBO) as a joint institutional arrangement, which is regarded as a guarantee of long-term cooperation over international rivers and can effectively reduce the occurrence of cooperative dilemma. However, the performance of IRBOs in different basins varies, leading to scholars' doubts regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of the institutional arrangement of IRBOs. Thus, increasingly more scholars have turned their attention to several questions including the following: “What characteristics does an IRBO show?” “How can feasible and effective river basin organization be established?” and “How can the performance of river basin organizations be evaluated?” China has a large number of international rivers, and the cooperation over these international rivers is an important starting point of China's neighborhood diplomacy. Nevertheless, research regarding the aforementioned problems has not received sufficient attention from domestic scholars. In this context, this study first reviews and determines the definitions and types of international river basin organizations and then focuses on the characteristics and effectiveness of their institutional design, noting the dilemmas of the existing research methods, and finally putting forward some suggestions on how IRBOs can promote international cooperation. First, one must integrate the evaluation indexes of the effectiveness of IRBOs and carry out an evaluation at a global scale. Traditional evaluation indicators may separate the natural process from the political process, or fail to organically unify the governance process and management results. Therefore, it is necessary to construct a set of popular evaluation index systems. Second, one must explore the scope and conditions applicable to the type of IRBO. Classifying IRBOs to determine the best matching conditions for each category has profound practical guidance for government management. Third, one must clarify the relationship between design features of an IRBO and their effectiveness. Before the role of policy guidance, whether the importance of institutional design features is consistent and the effectiveness of different institutional design features can be improved needs to be further researched. Fourth, one must explore a means to increase the effectiveness of IRBO from the perspective of process. The path of validity can be viewed from both micro and macro perspectives. The micro perspective attaches importance to the political process and institutional evolutionary process between the internal governance entities during emergence and development of IRBOs, while the macro perspective focuses on the interaction between IRBOs and other institutions. Next, one must adopt new methods beyond qualitative and quantitative research methods. A new method that requires only medium-scale samples beyond qualitative and quantitative research-the Qualitative Comparison Method (QCA)-may be able to solve the current difficulty in research methods. Finally, one must stimulate the cultural identity of member countries of IRBOs based on geo-civilization. An international river basin has a sense of cultural identity due to geopolitical civilization and its cultural power provides stability and durability.

Key words: international rivers, international river basin organization, institutional design, effectiveness

CLC Number: 

  • TV213.4