TROSA is coordinated by Oxfam, with funding support from the Swedish Government aid program – SIDA

Flowing in steep gorges from the Himalayan glaciers to the floodplains of India and Bangladesh, South Asia’s rivers are renowned cradles of religion and civilization. Their nutrient-rich waters support diverse agricultural production, freshwater fisheries and large urban centers. Yet these shared international rivers have some of the weakest protections in the world.

“In Bangladesh, we’re coping with sea-level rise on one side, and unpredictable water flows from upper riparian countries on the other side—and it’s affecting people’s livelihoods. TROSA is a crucial vehicle that’s bringing people’s voices to the decision-makers.”

Sharif Jamil, General Secretary, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan and Founder of Blue Planet Initiative
International Rivers convened the inaugural Women and Rivers Congress in Nepal in March 2019, with support from the TROSA program.


South Asia’s rivers and the use of their waters are hotly contested, both within and between nation states. Across the region, this contest for waters is costing both the rivers – and all those who rely on them – dearly.

International Rivers works in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, Teesta and Salween river basins through a joint program called the Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA). The program aims to improve water governance and transboundary cooperation around these mighty rivers, and to support local communities to participate in decision-making processes – centering, in particular, the knowledge and wisdom held by Indigenous groups and women.

To do this, we work alongside Oxfam, IUCN, ICIMOD and many local organizations and partners based in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand. We promote improved cross-border governance of these transboundary rivers, support women’s leadership, and advance decentralized energy alternatives to large hydropower.

We work with the indigenous Lepcha community in Sikkim at the headwaters of the Teesta, all the way down to the river’s confluence with the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. We assess community needs and offer solutions, whether it’s capacity-building, networking, or finding nature-based solutions to catastrophic riverbank erosion.


When countries lack a transboundary treaty or common understanding around the use of a shared river, the very waters themselves can become contested. Downstream countries feel particularly vulnerable to developments in upstream riparian countries, especially given the lack of consultation and data. We work to forward transboundary dialogue and understanding.

Rampant hydropower development poses one of the greatest threats to these river basins. Communities on the Salween have battled hydropower projects for decades. On the upper reaches of the Teesta, an important tributary of the Brahmaputra, run-of-river dams are causing landslides, erosion, flash floods and increasing instability.

Costly, slow and destructive hydropower is often the go-to solution for governments in South and Southeast Asia. But in the last decade, true renewables like wind and solar have become increasingly affordable, plentiful and easy to deploy. We work to educate decision-makers about technologies that are appropriate for local, often remote communities, preferencing community-owned, decentralized solutions like micro hydro, solar and wind.

Too often, women, youth and Indigenous groups are excluded from the decision-making bodies and governance processes that affect their lives and rivers. Their voices are silenced and discounted. There’s only one way to confront this asymmetrical power dynamic: by elevating and empowering leaders from these marginalized groups.

Hydropower dams starve rivers of needed sediment, and these dammed rivers grow increasingly “hungry,” creating erosion downstream. Governments often build hard infrastructure along riverbanks as mitigation, which unfortunately leads to a cascade of problems. We work with and support groups pioneering sustainable, nature-based engineering solutions that work.

Climate change is exacerbating all the challenges faced by these river basin communities. More frequent and intense storms, alternating with drought, are increasing erosion and disrupting the rivers’ ecological health.

Quick Facts

  • Over 750 million South Asians depend on the transboundary Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) basins for food, water and energy needs.
  • The Salween River is the last major free-flowing river in Asia, and one of the most ethnically diverse.

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