- Global surface water quality has been degrading with predictions of negative trends in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal ambient water quality targets (Mead, 2019; WWAP & UN Water, 2019). These water quality impacts can cross borders and impact populations in world’s 204 transboundary lake and reservoir basins (ILEC & UNEP, 2016). With risks including potential chronic health effects and impaired livelihoods, water quality trends have direct implications for local communities and can create domestic pressure on the states that manage the resource (Warner & Zawahri, 2012). Although water quality impairments are shared, they are experienced differently by all users. Various structural factors can shape local stakeholders’ exposure, impact, and influence on the state’s response. Simultaneously, these factors are influenced by the state practices that address the contamination in transboundary lakes. As a result, countries’ interactions over water quality are integral to understand how they impact local communities and, consequently, the extent to which communities’ needs are represented in the transboundary discourse. This research interrogates this dynamic to evaluate how local actors influence states’ behavior over transboundary water quality.
Through utilization of a novel conceptual framework, the impact of stakeholder distributions of power, vulnerability, and risk are assessed for their capacity to shape conflictive and cooperative water interactions between states. Based on an analysis of three case studies in transboundary lakes, stakeholder vulnerability drove states to initiate cooperation under a narrative of development. As risk increased, the states responded by engaging in high-intensity cooperation to address water quality. Finally, as power increased, stakeholders’ concerns became more represented at the transboundary level, initially causing state conflict and resulting in continued cooperation. While stakeholders’ distributions showed a clear impact on state action, they were not the sole driver of interactions in the basin. Dynamics between states and international actors also exerted pressure to promote high-intensity transboundary cooperation. These multiple pressures were mutually influencing and created a mixing of scale that drives state interactions.
This understanding of stakeholder influence informs the larger body of literature on transboundary interactions. By understanding triggers for cooperation and conflict, targeted interventions and management strategies can be employed (De Stefano, Petersen-Perlman, Sproles, Eynard, & Wolf, 2017). Through knowledge of stakeholders’ role in transboundary processes, information can be harnessed to promote positive cooperation and effectively address global water quality impairments.