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River basin development

The challenge

A river basin is a network of connected ecosystems which is shared by different communities and water users.

The combination of climate change, population growth, economic development and the expansion of irrigated areas means it is becoming increasingly more difficult to manage shared rivers without a collaborative and adaptive approach.

When selecting a site for a hydropower project, decision-makers should examine the entire river basin. This involves considering how to maximise energy generation alongside the environmental, social and economic outcomes for all users.

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Successful river basin development involves a holistic approach which encourages cooperation among a diverse group of stakeholders in the utilisation of river resources.

Site selection at the basin-scale ensures the optimal use of natural resources, supporting water supply, energy and agricultural uses. This minimises impacts, protects the environment and improves livelihoods.


Our strategy and action

IHA helps members understand how to design collaborative, adaptive approaches to river basin development.

Our approach is to collect and share experiences and knowledge with members, policy-makers and other stakeholders to support hydropower development planning at basin-scale.

Together with a multi-stakeholder group, we spearheaded the creation of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, in which site selection and river basin planning is part of the early stage assessment process.

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The Protocol is used by regulators, state-owned entities and developers seeking a licence to operate, and as a risk evaluation tool to identify challenges and solutions to river basin development.

Throughout 2018, we will be developing a compendium of case studies on this topic, covering both transboundary and national river basin development, as a means of sharing knowledge with and among our members.


Recent activities

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In May 2017, at the World Hydropower Congress in Ethiopia, we organised a focus session on strategic basin planning, with members and stakeholders presenting their experiences of basin-scale planning.

In September 2017, IHA’s new Board approved the new River Basin Development knowledge programme at its inaugural meeting.

In October 2017, we initiated research on hydropower in river basin development and began the process of gathering case studies for a forthcoming compendium.

In November 2017, 35 senior representatives of hydropower companies in 18 countries participated in a Africa-focused workshop on planning hydropower at basin-scale to reduce vulnerability to hydrological variability. We convened the workshop in partnership with the World Bank, the Nordic Development Fund and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ).


Join the network

Members interested in exchanging experiences and best practices on river basin development can join our River Basin Development Knowledge Network

Contact us

For any questions, please contact IHA analyst Cristina Diez Santos at

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