"Blue Peace Index" Assesses, Encourages Sustainable, Collaborative Water Resource Management


The inaugural Blue Peace Index, an assessment tool to measure the extent to which countries and water basins manage shared water resources in a sustainable and collaborative manner, was launched at World Water Week in Stockholm.

The need for such an index is increasing as efforts to share rivers, lakes and aquifers that cross national boundaries are falling short, raising a growing risk of conflict as global water supplies run low.

The Index, launched August 25 following 18 months of collaboration between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), makes the case that:

Reliance on stressed transboundary water resources is growing

By 2050, more than 50% of the world’s population will live in water-scarce regions and, with almost 60% of freshwater flows coming from transboundary rivers, these resources will become increasingly crucial in ensuring people have an adequate water supply. This creates an urgent need to manage these shared resources in a sustainable, equitable and collaborative manner.

Diverse stakeholders need a common framework to boost cooperation

To improve management of shared water resources and boost transboundary water cooperation, policymakers and diplomats must work closely with scientific and technical experts at local, national and international levels. In developing the index, the EIU explored various elements that impact management of shared water resources and transboundary cooperation and grouped them into five domains. The index thus provides stakeholders with a common framework to understand the complexity of this issue and to organise a co-ordinated response.

Countries and basins need to know how and where to act

Policymakers, donors and practitioners working in transboundary water are typically constrained by limited resources. The index analyses countries’ management and cooperation over shared water across a broad range of indicators. It thus allows stakeholders to identify and understand their countries’ relative strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to address the most relevant challenges. The index’s distinction between domestic and basin-level indicators also enables stakeholders to understand whether they should focus their activities on domestic or regional-level policies and institutions.

The index is aimed at policymakers, practitioners, international organizations and private sector investors. It will provide a global platform for understanding what can be done to improve the use of transboundary water as an instrument to promote cooperation and peace.

Blue Peace Index researchers reviewed an extensive body of literature, consultation with an expert panel, and a comprehensive interview program conducted between January 2018 and July 2019. International institutions, NGOs, government entities, the private sector and academia were included in the assessment.

The first version of the index examines 24 countries and focuses on 5 transboundary river basins. The index examines 74 qualitative and quantitative indicators; some assessed at river basin level, some assessed at the national level. The indicators have been designed to reflect the degree of “agency” of each country and cover these categories: policy and legal frameworks, institutions and participation, water management instruments, infrastructure and financing, and extent of transboundary cooperation.

The 2019 report covers river basins in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the mid-East Amazon, and scores the defined river basin against the five categories, pointing out the strength of the regional cooperation as well as the challenges presented.

The report suggests national leaders make water security a priority now, link water policy to other national policies, from agriculture to trade, and put in place water-sharing institutions early.The index will be expanded to include the Nile River, Lake Chad and the Indus river system.

The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that fewer than one in three of the world’s transboundary rivers and lake basins and just nine of the 350 aquifers that straddle more than one country have cross-border management systems in place. In addition, there is a growing threat as more than 50 percent of the world’s population is likely to live in water-stressed areas by 2050 and of 40 percent will be dependent on transboundary water.

“Most transboundary basins are peaceful, but the trend is that we are seeing more and more tensions and conflict arising,” according to Matus Samel of EIU. “There are no easy solutions or universal solutions,” Samel warned. “But there are lessons regions and basins can learn and share".

The index now plans to include the Nile River, Lake Chad and the Indus river system.