Cultural, political, and economic conflicts are the most serious problems encountered in transboundary river issues. These may be exacerbated by environmental stresses and by the actions chosen in response. Gilbert White (1966) distinguished between the theoretical and practical ranges of choice in structuring the analysis of adjustment decisions. The physical environment at a given stage of technology sets the theoretical range of choice open to any resource manager or group. The practical range of choice is set by culture, institutions, types of analytical tools employed, etc., which permit, prohibit, or discourage a given choice. Water has thus been defined as a property of territorial units in the legal setting, as a natural resource transformable into products for human consumption in an engineering setting, and as a commodity that can be exchanged and traded between various places and various uses in an economic setting (Blatter and Ingram, 2001). The technological response is to regularize the flow and expand the total amount of available water. The recent experience on dispute resolution shows a contrast between an abiding belief in the rationality of public decision making on the part of some participants while others exhibit sharp suspicion toward the politics of "expert" managerial discourses (e.g., the commo-dification of water vs. communal values). Emerging knowledge of the complexity and varieties of meaning characterizing "fresh water" at the end of the twentieth century has led to greater appreciation of the limitations as well as the benefits of technological, legal, and economic approaches. In no other context are the divergent meanings of water likely to be more contested than in transboundary situations (Blatter and Ingram, 2001).
Attention has begun to focus on how impacts of chosen approaches exacerbate the root causes of social and ecological vulnerability. There is increasing appreciation for explicit consideration of peoples affected by decisions but who are usually excluded from participation or from the benefits of developed infrastructure (see Pulwarty and Riebsame, 1997; Milich and Varady, 1998). Reduction of vulnerability requires careful assessments of the range of alternative adjustments, among which societies may choose in arriving at a suitable plan for a given period (White, 1977). There is thus an ongoing need for guidance in integrating equity with efficiency considerations in transboundary water management through studies of place-based historical and cultural uses, understanding the role of public trust, the impact of new technologies, and of the flexibility provided by market-based approaches after basic human needs and environmental requirements are met. In particular more work needs to be done on the trade-offs involved between calls for increased participation and the formation of consensus. Promising partnerships are emerging but are in their early stages (see Milich and Varady, 1998).
From the perspective of the climate and water sciences, researchers, through ongoing dialog and joint studies, should engage practitioners as full partners to uncover issues of mutual significance, explicitly address uncertainties in both the scientific and decision domains, and to understand and overcome barriers to information use contingent in each situation (Pulwarty and Melis, 2001). The goals are to have better matches among what is needed, what is asked for, what is available, and what actions can be taken. These processes must be embedded within an understanding of the decision contexts (historical, policy, and operational) within which trade-offs take place.
Water by its very nature tends to introduce even hostile co-riparians to cooperate even as disputes continue over other issues (Wolf, 1999). At the international level the weight of historic evidence tends to favor water as a catalyst for cooperation for particular ends. This has not been the case on the subnational scales. While governing institutions that more closely correspond with the physical water system can help to assure appropriate consideration of efficiency and equity, domestic policy can pose major institutional barriers to international agreements and management across national borders. Ultimately, the main tasks in the foreseeable future will be uncovering how to share common but variable water resources in a catchment area between upstream and downstream users, between various sectors, between rural and urban areas, between preservation of functioning ecosystems, and more direct tangible needs (Falkenmark and Lundqvist, 1995). Engaging the many dimensions of transboundary river flow requires, more than ever, the need to understand these "regions" as integrators of social, cultural, climatic, economic, and ecological histories and networks, that help to shape shared community interests and values.
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