Compliance and Performance in International Water Agreements: The Case of the Naryn/Syr Darya Basin

Global Governance 14/4: 479–501.

Posted: 13 Dec 2017

Date Written: December 1, 2008


Many case studies and some large-N research have shown that upstream-downstream cooperation in international river basins occurs quite frequently. The same holds for global water governance efforts more generally. Yet such findings are blind in one eye because they focus primarily on political commitments or compliance with international agreements. A policy performance metric (PER) allows for a more substantive assessment of success or failure in international water governance. To test its usefulness, this article applies this metric to the Naryn/Syr Darya basin, a major international river system in Central Asia. Management of the Toktogul reservoir, the main reservoir in the Naryn/Syr Darya basin, was internationalized in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Compliance with an international agreement, concluded in 1998, has been quite high. This agreement establishes an international trade-off between water releases for upstream hydropower production in winter and water releases for downstream irrigation in summer. However, performance of this agreement over time has been very low and highly variable. The management system in place is therefore in urgent need of reform. Studies of international and global water governance should pay more attention to the degree to which political commitments actually further de facto problem solving.

Keywords: international cooperation, governance, compliance, performance, water management, Naryn/Syr Darya, Toktogul dam

Suggested Citation

Bernauer, Thomas and Siegfried, Tobias, Compliance and Performance in International Water Agreements: The Case of the Naryn/Syr Darya Basin (December 1, 2008). Global Governance 14/4: 479–501.. Available at SSRN:

Thomas Bernauer (Contact Author)

ETH Zurich ( email )

Center for Comparative and International Studies
Building IFW, office 45.1, Haldeneggsteig 4
Zurich 8092, 8092
+41 44 632 6466 (Phone)
+41 44 632 1289 (Fax)


Tobias Siegfried

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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