Clearing the muddy waters of shared watercourses governance: conceptualizing international River Basin Organizations

Susanne Schmeier, Andrea K. Gerlak, Sabine Blumstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Institutions that have been set up by riparian states to internationally govern shared water resources—international River Basin Organizations (RBOs)—play a key role in river basin governance. Despite an increased attention paid to RBOs in international relations and water scholarship, there has been little focus on defining and conceptualizing RBOs and, subsequently, on comprehensively identifying the RBOs that exist around the world. This has challenged research around RBOs in both methodological and theoretical ways. This paper aims to meet this challenge by offering a theoretically grounded definition of an international RBO and crafting a comprehensive list of international RBOs. We do so deductively, building from the larger neo-institutionalist research and international water resources governance literature. Our definition identifies three broad categories of constitutive elements: internationalization, institutionalization and governance. We apply this definition to potential cases to better identify the extent of RBOs around the world today and outline which cases qualify as RBOs and which cases fail to meet our constitutive criteria. This allows us to compile a comprehensive list of all existing international RBOs, including the identification of RBOs with specific characteristics. The article concludes by crafting an agenda for future research around RBOs that builds on this more complete understanding of RBOs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)597-619
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • International River Basin Organizations
  • International rivers and lakes
  • Water cooperation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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