The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty dividing the rivers of the Indus system between India and Pakistan has continued to function through two wars and numerous political tensions. Nevertheless, given mounting pressures on the Indus’ waters due to population growth, climate change and mismanagement, many call for abandonment or renegotiation of the treaty. This article situates these criticisms within the quantitative literature analyzing river treaties to demonstrate that the same critiques are applicable to many treaties.

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.

Big river basins are complex systems of people and nature. This article explores the resilience of nine case studies of big river basins. A system description and generic conceptual model suggests that resilience to changes in water quantity is critical. When water becomes limiting, the social-ecological system must adapt rapidly if key elements (for example, communities, biodiversity) are to be maintained. Water limitation imposes a water economy and alters political and institutional links between actors.

This article summarizes the results of water productivity assessment in 10 river basins across Asia, Africa and South America, representing a range of agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions. Intensive farming in the Asian basins gives much greater agricultural outputs and higher water productivity. Largely subsistence agriculture in Africa has significantly lower water productivity. There is very high intra-basin variability, which is attributed mainly to lack of inputs, and poor water and crop management.

This paper analyses water availability and use within and between the Challenge Program on Water and Food basins. It describes the main features of water demand and supply in the basins and indicates where there are deficits and opportunities for development of water resources. A typology of basin water resources status uses a range of global spatial datasets. The main outcomes of basin activities on water availability are identified.

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.