News Release

May 4, 2016

For Immediate Release
Contact: Christine LaPaille, Director of Communications, (703) 824-2693

CNA Study Finds Water Resource Competition Poses Threat to Regional Stability
China, India, and Bangladesh Must Work Cooperatively to Avoid Future Conflict

Arlington, VA—Today CNA released a study finding that the demands for the water resources of the Brahmaputra River basin – shared by China, India, and Bangladesh – pose a threat to stability in the region and that cooperative efforts should begin now to prevent problems in the future.

The study, Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin: China, India, and Bangladesh, prepared by CNA, was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

"It’s an under-examined issue, especially given its potential impact," said Nilanthi Samaranayake, analyst in CNA Strategic Studies and project director for the report. "The Brahmaputra River flows through China, India, and Bangladesh. We’re talking about three of the most populated nations in the world, rising demands for water and power, yet no agreement on managing this transboundary resource. Even in the best of circumstances, the situation requires a careful balance. The concern is: what happens if those circumstances deteriorate?"

Despite the potential threats to regional stability over possible dam-building and water diversion plans for the Brahmaputra, no bilateral or multilateral water management accords exist between the nations sharing the river. And with India and China having already fought one war over contested territory in the region, there are concerns that competition for the Brahmaputra’s resources could one day lead to conflict.

"That’s the worry," said Samaranayake. "But the good news is we’re not yet at a tipping point. There’s time to develop agreements and build connectivity networks that will help meet people’s needs over the long term."

As stated in the report: "[T]here are ways to pursue positive interactions in the Brahmaputra basin at the bilateral and even multilateral levels. In fact, because there are no interstate or water-related crises at present, the moment is opportune for China, India, and Bangladesh to work cooperatively to prevent future problems. Appealing to the shared interests of the three countries—such as economic integration and development of the basin—will be more effective for multilateral cooperation than focusing on the narrow lens of water-sharing."

The report, based on findings by teams of analysts sent to the three countries by CNA, offers recommendations for key stakeholders to consider at the subnational, bilateral, and multilateral levels. Its findings lay the foundation for policymakers in China, India, and Bangladesh to discuss steps to resolve water resource competition and shift the discussion toward cooperatively addressing long-term water needs and development of the Brahmaputra basin.

Samaranayake’s co-authors for the report were Satu Limaye, senior advisor at CNA and director of the East-West Center in Washington, D.C., and Joel Wuthnow, formerly of CNA and now research fellow at the National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs. Other partners on the project were the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute in Dhaka, and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

CNA is a nonprofit research and analysis organization dedicated to developing actionable solutions to complex problems of national importance. With nearly 700 scientists, analysts and professional staff, CNA takes a real-world approach to gathering data. Its one-of-a-kind field program places analysts on carriers and military bases, in squad rooms and classrooms, and working side-by-side with a wide array of government decision-makers around the world. In addition to defense-related matters for the U.S. Department of the Navy, CNA’s research portfolio includes criminal justice, homeland security, energy security, water resources, enterprise systems and data analysis, and education.

Note to writers and editors: CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA."


Elizabeth Cutler
Sr Communications Specialist

John Stimpson
Communications Associate