The authors analysed livelihood conditions in 10 river basins over three continents to identify generalizable links between water, agriculture and poverty. There were significant variations in hydrological conditions, livelihood strategies and institutions across basins, but also systematic patterns across levels of economic development. At all levels, access to water is influenced by local, regional or national institutions, while the importance of national versus local institutions and livelihood strategies vary with economic development.

Global population growth exerts stresses on river basins that provide food, water, energy and other ecosystem services. In some basins, evidence is emerging of failures to satisfy these demands. This paper assembles data from nine river basins in a framework that relates water and food systems to development. The framework provides a consistent basis for analysis of the water and food problem globally, while providing insight into specific conditions within basins.