Chatham House seeks to provide a better understanding of the attitudes of policy-makers and opinion formers in South Asia towards water. In particular, given the divergent views and approaches to water management that are being promoted in the sub-continent, it seeks to improve understanding of what works, and why.

In South Asia, disputes over water are current and ongoing. There are disputes between nations and among regions within nations, as well as competition for water use among different consumers, from industries to farmers. Hundreds of millions of people face growing water stress as a result of over-exploitation, climate change and inadequate cooperation in the region. At the same time, water is a highly-emotive and politically-charged issue. While progressive action on its management is still to attain traction in the political and policy narratives, lack of access to water can shape electoral fortunes and popularities of governments throughout the region.

A securitised, zero-sum approach to management of water resources has traditionally dominated water management and policy across South Asia both between countries and within them. One of the results of this has been a lack of information sharing. In the absence of hard agreed facts, myths around why there is too much or too little water have evolved and gained credibility and influence. Often these myths place the blame on a neighbouring country or region. As a result, local or domestic water management policies and practices have not been given sufficient consideration in policy and investment decisions. 

The Chatham House report Attitudes to Water in South Asia, the outcome of a project run in partnership with the Observer Research Foundation, Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, Jinnah Institute, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute and Nepal Economic Forum and funded with UK aid from the UK government, provided evidence of the extent of similarities and differences on attitudes to water across the region and provided insights into the contours of the political economy, the key drivers, underlying themes, specific issues, agents of change and traditional nodes of influence that shape water management policy, practice and public discourse in the region.

The research paper Water, Ecosystems and Energy in South Asia: Making Cross-Border Collaboration Work, supported by the South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) and held in partnership with the World Bank and the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and Norway, looked at the factors that have made previous cross-border projects in South Asia successful, arguing that cooperation around water is feasible despite the region’s political differences and economic asymmetries.

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