Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin

In 2015-2016, CNA studied water resource competition between India, China, and Bangladesh in the Brahmaputra River basin. The Brahmaputra River, which originates in China and runs through India and Bangladesh, raises serious concerns for regional stability. China and India have fought a war over contested territory through which the Brahmaputra flows, while Bangladesh faces human security pressures in this basin that will be magnified by upstream river practices. Despite potential threats to regional stability from dam-building activities and water diversion plans on shared resources, no bilateral or multilateral water management accord exists in the Brahmaputra River basin.

This project, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, provides greater understanding of the equities and drivers fueling water insecurity in the Brahmaputra River basin. After conducting research in the three countries, CNA offers recommendations for key stakeholders to consider at the subnational, bilateral, and basin-wide levels. CNA’s findings lay the foundation for policymakers in China, India, and Bangladesh to discuss steps that manage and resolve water resource competition in order to help move the discussion toward solutions that address underlying long-term water needs and development of the Brahmaputra basin, thereby strengthening regional security.

We are grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which sponsored this project, and to our think-tank partners in the region—the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in Beijing, the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi, and the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) in Dhaka.

Cover Photography: Brahmaputra River, India: people crossing the Brahmaputra River at six in the morning. Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest, "Brahmaputra River, India," Maria Stenzel/National Geographic Society/Universal Images Group Rights Managed/For Education Use Only, http://quest.eb.com/search/137_3139899/1/137_3139899/cite.

CNA Event

On May 4, 2016, CNA hosted a release event in Arlington, VA, about Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin.

Event Agenda:

Welcome: Paul Faeth, CNA Energy, Water, & Climate

Project Overview: Nilanthi Samaranayake, CNA Strategic Studies

Special Guest Opening Remarks: Claudia Sadoff, Ph.D., World Bank

CNA Study Team Findings:

  • China – Joel Wuthnow, Ph.D., National Defense University
  • India – Satu Limaye, Ph.D., East-West Center in Washington and CNA
  • Bangladesh – Nilanthi Samaranayake, CNA

Question and Answer Session