Hydrology vs sovereignty: managing the hydrological interdependency of international rivers

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

In managing international rivers, governments are subject to two different boundaries. The socio-politically constructed boundaries governed by sovereignty and the physical boundaries imposed by the river's hydrology. The existence of a hydrological interdependency within an international basin means that “how” it is managed is important in constructing certainty in water supply. We compare two experiences from Europe and Africa to see the effect of sovereignty on the management of a basin's hydro-interdependency. Portugal and Spain have followed a Westphalian interpretation of sovereignty in the Guadiana basin to develop their physical infrastructure unilaterally and “sever” the hydro-interdependency. In contrast, using an operational interpretation of sovereignty, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal have chosen to embrace the Senegal river's hydro-interdependency and develop it jointly. A key lesson that emerges is that the approach used determines the pattern of resilience constructed in each system.

Keywords: Guadiana river, Hydrological interdependency, International basins, Senegal river, Sovereignty, Water

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