Domestic environmental activists and the governance of the Ganges and Mekong Rivers in India and China

Neda Zawahri, Oliver Hensengerth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


It is generally considered difficult to resolve negative unidirectional externalities within hydro-hegemonic basins in which the upstream powerful riparian has the incentive to unilaterally develop the river without regard to downstream consequences. Weaker downstream riparian states can resort to issue linkages and side payments to coerce a change in the upstream hydro-hegemon’s behavior, but the success of these tools depends on the specific political and economic situation in the basin and on the preferences of the hydro-hegemonic state for cooperation. Neglected in the literature is another possibility. Through a consideration of the sanctioned discourse of watershed management at the domestic levels, this article shows that domestic environmental non-governmental organizations and policy entrepreneurs—through the application of a range of tools—can work to change the domestic water management discourse from a state-hydraulic paradigm to a more sustainable water management paradigm. When these efforts are successful, we can find that these non-state actors can perform a crucial function in cleaning up domestic stretches of international rivers, which produces positive externalities downstream. In the process, they are able of achieving what often years of international negotiations failed to accomplish. Drawing on semi-structured interviews, India’s policies on water quality in the national stretches of Ganges Basin and China’s policies on biodiversity in the national stretches of the Mekong Basin are used to make this argument.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-298
JournalInternational Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


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