Environmental Law

Water Governance and Hydro-diplomacy

What is Water Governance? Water governance sets the “rules of the game” for the way water is managed. It determines how or even whether sustainable water resource management is implemented. Poor water governance results in degradation and over-allocation of water resources, is a cause of vulnerability for poor people and loss of biodiversity, and leads to weaker and less resilient livelihoods and economic growth. Water governance is organised according to policy, laws and institutions in a country. In transboundary basins, good water governance requires the countries sharing waters to cooperate
Water drop

Water Governance demonstrations catalyse solutions

Water governance capacity is how well a society is able to implement effective water management through transparent, coherent and cost-efficient policy, law and institutions. Water governance capacity is built most effectively where stakeholders participate and it is coordinated from local to national and transboundary levels. 

BRIDGE aims at fostering transboundary cooperation, for better water security and faster progress on, for example, safe water supply and sanitation, ecosystem management and water resources development that is sustainable.


Hydro-diplomacy enables countries to negotiate agreements on water management. For transboundary agreements over water to work more effectively on the ground, they need the involvement of water users at multiple levels of governance. 

Hydro-diplomacy should be a process which operates under the authority of sovereign States, requiring their ultimate involvement, but which also unlocks cooperation among multiple stakeholders, including municipalities and provinces and civil society. Working broadly as a multi-level governance process, hydro-diplomacy can better integrate government priorities for natural resource security and economic growth, while providing a means to integrate biodiversity conservation into water management. This process contributes to building water governance capacity.

The conventional approach to water diplomacy is often too narrowly focused on high-level dialogue between States, for example between Ministries of Foreign Affairs. A treaty establishes a framework under international law for how the countries that share waters in a basin will manage the resource.These agreements often, but in many cases do not, incorporate stakeholders’ participation at multiple scales (legitimacy of the State’s authority is not the issue).

Through BRIDGE, IUCN has built a distinctive – but complementary – practice of water diplomacy. It starts with the principle that water diplomacy takes place under the authority of sovereign States. Since water is a resource used by everyone and managed at multiple scales, many types of arrangements are needed for effective governance of transboundary waters, representing a ‘multiplicity of agreements.’ These include treaties but also a wide array of formal and informal accords involving local communities, municipal governments, technical agencies, economic sectors and representatives of water users;for example, farmers, fishers and power companies. Working across such a spectrum of cooperative instruments builds a practical, operational roadmap for change and improvement in water governance capacity that is closely articulated with integrated water resource management and sustainable development in a basin.

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