Blue Peace Index 2019

By Matus Samel, Beth Warne 18 October, 2019

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Samel & Warne introduce the brand new Blue Peace Index (BPI) & how it promotes transboundary water cooperation

Freshwater resources are dwindling fast ; by 2050, >50% of the world's population will live in water scarce regions, plus 45% GDP, 52% population & 40% of grain production of the world will be at risk
Despite providing 60% of freshwater flow & being home to 40% of population, only <1/3 of transboundary basins have joint water management bodies - yet cooperation benefits are extensive
Therefore, the BPI explores 5 major basins (e.g. Amazon & Mekong) & highlights the need for high-level political will & leadership; ultimately, it aims to raise awareness & provide a global assessment

By 2050, more than 50% of the world’s population will live in water scarce regions; without a solution many regions of the world are fast approaching a state of water poverty. Although rapidly rising sea levels are a very real consequence of climate change, freshwater resources – that account for just 2.5% of all the world’s water – are dwindling fast.

By 2050, more than 50% of the world’s population will live in water scarce regions

Critically, the majority of these resources cross national borders, making their management and conservation particularly challenging. To highlight the challenges, and explore potential solutions, of transboundary water management and cooperation, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), developed The Blue Peace Index.

The BPI was developed to highlight challenges & explore solutions of transboundary water management & cooperation

Freshwater is the heartbeat of human health but it isn’t only a source of hydration. Freshwater is also consumed in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products that we buy. Access to safe freshwater is critical if we are to achieve many of the social and economic objectives outlined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework.

Rising demand for decreasing water resources is not solely negative, demand has increased as more and more people are able to access clean, safe drinking water. Nevertheless, the wider availability of drinking water and sanitation accounts for just a small fraction of our global water consumption. Agriculture (including irrigation, livestock and aquaculture) relies heavily on freshwater resources and accounts for almost 70% of demand globally. An explosion in water-intensive agriculture has exacerbated the pressure on the freshwater resources we have access to.

If the expected demand is realised, 45% world’s GDP, 52% population & 40% grain production will be at risk by 2050

The world’s demand for freshwater is expected to continue rising at similar rates over the next few decades. If realised, the results could be extremely challenging, putting 45% of the world’s global gross domestic product (GDP), 52% of its population, and 40% of its grain production at risk by 2050.[1]

Indeed, The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report placed the water crisis as the fourth largest risk facing the world, after weapons of mass destruction, extreme weather, and climate change (both also closely linked to water).

Transboundary river basins provide 60% of the world’s freshwater flow & are home to 40% of population…

National and local governments will need to undertake an array of policies to mitigate the effects of freshwater scarcity, from innovative wastewater treatment, to the use of technology to curb waste. However, the scope for any individual country to address the issue in isolation is limited by the realities of nature, as water knows no borders. Transboundary river basins provide 60% of the world’s freshwater flow and are home to 40% of the world’s population. These basins are essential for agriculture, industry, energy generation, and domestic drinking water and sanitation.

…yet globally, only <1/3 of transboundary river & lake basins have joint water management bodies

The Blue Peace Index highlights the worrying lack of formal collaboration structures to govern these critical transboundary water resources. Globally, less than a third of the 286 transboundary river and lake basins, spanning 148 states, have joint water management bodies—and their institutional capacity varies considerably.[2]

Exploring 5 basins and 24 countries globally, the first edition of The Blue Peace Index aims to broaden public debate and awareness on the desirable goals and best practices in transboundary water management, as well as the real costs of mismanagement and lack of cooperation. The Blue Peace is a multidimensional approach that recognises water as a potential source of conflict, whilst also appreciating its power to foster peace.

The benefits of transboundary water cooperation are diverse and extensive, cutting across economic, health, social, environmental and political domains. Working together does not merely mean avoiding negative scenarios, such as flooding or pollution, but creating public goods that provide more than countries could achieve on their own.

The benefits of transboundary water cooperation are diverse & extensive…

…cutting across economic, health, social, environmental & political domains

The report compares transboundary practices across 5 basins & 24 countries…

…including the Amazon, Mekong, Senegal, Sava & Tigris-Euphrates Basins

The Blue Peace Index assesses how water resources are currently managed before detailing how basin countries could start to move towards best-practice. In order to engage with Blue Peace, we must start by identifying the fundamental issues in current water (mis)management. The report compares transboundary cooperation and management practices across the Amazon, Mekong, Senegal, Sava and Tigris-Euphrates Basins across five domains – Policy and legal framework, Institutions and Participation, Water Management Instruments, Infrastructure and Financing and Cooperation Context – to assess the extent to which basin site countries are currently working in a sustainable and collaborative manner to future-proof this threatened resource.

The apolitical nature of some River Basin Organisations (RBOs) has helped to maintain access to water in the face of geopolitical turmoil

The apolitical nature of some pre-existing River Basin Organisations (RBOs) has helped to maintain access to water in the face of geopolitical turmoil for local communities. Despite this, the BPI highlights the need for high-level political will and leadership in transboundary water management as one of the six key areas in which water management can occur more effectively. Although the politicisation of RBOs is a delicate matter, open and collaborative discussions between nations and national politicians are needed to incite change.

To underpin such dialogue, between countries with, at times, conflicting political agendas, identification of shared benefits and broader commitment to evidence-based decision-making can provide essential foundations. Development of formal and informal institutions, and channels for inclusion of key local stakeholders and communities, can then facilitate the exchange of ideas and prevent individual disputes and disagreements from escalating into broader conflicts.

Finally, all of these efforts need to be underpinned by coordinated and sustainable investment in institutions, infrastructure and information systems, which has so far proven to be extremely challenging.

The Blue Peace Index aims to help bringing the challenges and opportunities for improving transboundary water cooperation and management of shared water resources to the fore of political and public attention, and ultimately expand to provide a global holistic assessment of drivers and conditions for Blue Peace.

To find out more about the Blue Peace Index, visit


[1] The study uses the data from the Water Stress Index measuring total water withdrawals as a share of internal renewable water resources for 115 countries and economic regions, and 281 food-producing units (large river basins or aggregated river basins within countries). The countries and basins are defined as “water scarce” when they withdraw more than 40% of internal renewable water resources. These water-stressed regions are considered “at risk” due to water scarcity. See Veolia Water, ‘Finding the Blue Path for a Sustainable Economy’, (2011),, [last accessed 24.04.19]

[2] See also, S. Burchi, ‘Legal frameworks for the governance of international transboundary aquifers: Pre-and post-ISARM experience’, (Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 20, 2018), pp. 15-20,, [last accessed 24.09.19]

Further Reading

  • “Basin Winner”: A Sustainable Education Board Game – Managing rivers and balancing trade-offs can be difficult but ‘Basin Winner’ makes it a lot more fun. The game’s co-developer Zhiqiang Chen from Greencity shares more on pilots and next steps
  • Stormwater Recovery For A Healthy Sydney – Every drop counts. Star Water’s tech to clean and reuse stormwater keeps Sydney healthy plus saves water costs. Find out how from their CEO Christopher Rochfort in three case studies
  • Building Flood Resilience For Hong Kong – HK is the rainiest city in the Pacific Rim and with the threat of climate change, it’s heading for a wetter future. The Drainage Services Department’s senior engineer Patrick Chan shares the city’s strategies to improve flood resilience
  • Rising Drought Risks In The Era Of Climate Crisis – With agriculture and power most at risk from drought, what should businesses do? Can individuals push them to action? We sat down with Juliane Vatter from WWF as she expands from their latest report
  • 3 Takeaways From The Fortune Global Sustainability Forum – Green is growing up with innovations for food, renewables, plastics and more on show but as China Water Risk’s Woody Chan reviews in his takeaways, there are still gaps to be filled before “business unusual” really comes to life
  • Why Do Hydro-Hegemons Cooperate? – Cooperation and conflict exist on a spectrum in transboundary river basins. Dr Selina Ho from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy explores the policies of China & India, Asia’s two hydro-hegemons. How and why they work with other states on the Mekong & the Ganges?
  • China’s Water Sharing Treaties – Reciprocity In Practice? – Does China really deserve its bad rap over its water sharing practices? Chongqing University’s Dr. David J. Devlaeminck questions this by exploring water sharing norms through a Chinese lens
  • Sharing Rivers: The Lancang-Mekong Case – Using the emergency water release by China to help downstream countries in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin as an example, Tsinghua University’s Prof. Zhao Jianshi explores the benefits of cooperation & the importance of China
  • Sharing Rivers: China & Kazakhstan – China and Kazakhstan share 24 rivers. Dr. Selina Ho from the National University of Singapore reviews their history of transboundary river co-operation and why this relationship is more advanced than China’s river relations with India & the Mekong states
Matus Samel
Author: Matus Samel
Matus Samel is a Consultant at the EIU's Public Policy Consulting team, designing and managing projects on a variety of public policy areas linked to sustainable development. He is the project manager for the Blue Peace Index project, developed in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC). Matus has worked with numerous international organisation, governments and businesses on programmes related to energy policy, sustainable economic growth, private sector development, international trade and competitiveness. He holds a Master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he specialized in Economic and Political Development, Energy Policy and International Trade and Competitiveness.
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Beth Warne
Author: Beth Warne
Beth Warne is a Research Analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and was the lead analyst for the creation of the Blue Peace Index. Since joining the EIU, she has specialised in projects relating to economic planning in emerging markets, as well as sustainability. Beth studied at the London School of Economics and, prior to working in the Public Policy team, was a consultant based in Saudi Arabia.
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