Evolving discourses on water resource management and climate change in the Equatorial Nile Basin

Nina Hissen, Declan Conway, Marisa C. Goulden

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Transboundary water resources management in the Equatorial Nile Basin (EQNB) is a politically contested issue. There is a growing body of literature examining water-related discourses which identifies the ability of powerful actors and institutions to influence policy. Concern about the effects of future climate change has featured strongly in research on the Nile River for several decades. It is therefore timely to consider whether and how these concerns are reflected in regional policy documents and policy discourse. This study analyzes discourse framings of water resources management and climate change in policy documents (27, published between 2001 and 2013) and as elicited in interviews (38) with water managers in the EQNB. Three main discursive framings are identified which are present in the discourses on both subjects: a problem-oriented environmental risk frame and two solution-oriented frames, on governance and infrastructure development. Climate change discourse only emerges as a common topic around 2007. The framings found in the water resources management discourse and the climate change discourse are almost identical, suggesting that discursive framings were adopted from the former for use in the latter. We infer that the climate change discourse may have offered a less politically sensitive route to circumvent political sensitivities around water allocation and distribution between riparian countries in the EQNB. However, the climate change discourse does not offer a lasting solution to the more fundamental political dispute over water allocation. Moreover, in cases where the climate change discourse is subsumed within a water resources management discourse, there are dangers that it will not fully address the needs of effective adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-213
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Environment & Development
Issue number2
Early online date12 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • water governance
  • climate change
  • discourse analysis
  • Nile Basin
  • case study

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