Projecting conflict risk in transboundary river basins by 2050 following different ambition scenarios

Sophie Pieternel de Bruin a,b, Susanne Schmeier c , Rens van Beek d and Marijn Gulpen e an Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; b PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, the Netherlands; c Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands; d Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands; e Water and Food Research Group, Wageningen Environmental Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands


This study presents three global scenario projections of conflict risk in transboundary river basins by combining scenario projection data on risks identified in the existing literature. Under a business-as-usual scenario, 920 million people are projected to live in very high to high conflict-risk basins by 2050. In the low ambition scenario, this number decreases to 724 million people, while in the high ambition scenario, it decreases to 536 million. Large basins with specifically high conflict risk are the Juba–Shibeli, Lake Turkana, Indus and Irrawaddy. These findings hope to inform water diplomacy, conflict prevention and mitigation support for basins at risk.

ARTICLE HISTORY Received 7 July 2022 Accepted 21 February 2023

KEYWORDS Transboundary river basins; scenario projections; hydropower dams; institutional resilience; conflict risk; ambition pathways


Hundreds of rivers are shared by two or more countries. Using these shared rivers can lead to competition or conflict between riparian states. Recent examples of conflictive interaction include tensions in the Indus (Pakistan and India), the Euphrates–Tigris (Turkey, Syria and Iraq) and the Nile (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) basins. Nonetheless, cooperation over these rivers overall prevails (Bernauer & Böhmelt, 2020; Wolf, 1999) and large-scale international violent conflicts or even war over shared waters have so far not happened (De Stefano et al., 2012; Yoffe et al., 2003). Risks for conflict do nonetheless remain and potentially increase as populations grow, water use intensifies and the climate changes. It is therefore important to better understand the dynamics and conditions that can affect transboundary conflict and cooperation and the different factors that drive conflict and cooperation dynamics, as studied by various authors (Dinar et al., 2019; Link et al., 2016; Petersen-Perlman & Wolf, 2015; Schmeier, 2013). This is particularly important as these drivers are still insufficiently understood and prior research has sometimes led to inconclusive findings (Bernauer &Böhmelt, 2020) while being of great importance especially for understanding potential future conflict risk in shared basins and developing adequate policy responses.

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Source : Sophie Pieternel de Bruin, Susanne Schmeier, Rens van Beek & Marijn Gulpen (2023): Projecting conflict risk in transboundary river basins by 2050 following different ambition scenarios, International Journal of Water Resources Development, DOI: 10.1080/07900627.2023.2184650

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2023.2184650

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