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[EV0201] Topic overview – Geography of River Basin


What is a river basin?

A river basin is an area on land where sediment is collected, accumulated and moved in various forms, such as streams, rivers, groundwater or other forms.

A large river basin typically includes several sub-basins (according to river tributaries). For example, there are several sub-basins in the Mtkvari River basin: Alazani, Ksani and Iori.

Why river basin (upstream and downstream)

The river basin as a whole is the most optimal basic unit for water resources management. It is recognized worldwide that if we want to properly manage water resources, the unit where management measures should be planned and implemented is the river basin.

The modern approach implies that we use the pool approach in water resources management. Clearly, a measure taken downstream would not be effective if upstream is not taken into account.

Consider the example for more clarity. Imagine a river flowing from a high mountain to a plain. It is clear that the quality of downstream water depends to some extent on the quality of upstream water. If there is a village on the upper stream that follows the cattle, the water is also polluted accordingly and the residents downstream receive this water. However, how should the upstream residents behave? This is its natural environment and it is a vital activity for its existence. One solution is to consider upstream settlements as security service providers, to allocate money for them to introduce modern technology to maintain water quality.

Transboundary rivers

A river that flows through the territory of several countries is called a transboundary river. Their pools are also located within different countries.

Cross-border rivers are: Danube (10 countries), Nile (11 countries), Rhine (6 countries) and others. Transboundary rivers in our region are Mtkvari (Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan), Alazani (Georgia, Azerbaijan), Iori (Georgia, Azerbaijan).

Fun Facts

Water accumulated in a glacier can be incorporated into the water cycle only after the ice has thawed, which can take hundreds of years. The same applies to groundwater. It may take thousands of years for water to come to the surface of the earth, exposed to sunlight, and re-engage in the water cycle.

Nearly half of the earth’s surface is occupied by 263 transboundary lakes and river basins. Part of the territory of 145 countries, and the territory of 30 countries is fully covered by any cross-border basin.

In the context of the transboundary river basin, a very good example of global cooperation is the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, which brings together representatives from 14 countries.


Reduction / shortage of water resources

The problem of water shortages and water deficit is transboundary in nature. For example, the Aral Sea basin belongs to the type of closed basin and includes 7 countries. Its two feeding rivers – Sirdaria and Amurdaria – have been used so actively for irrigation since the 1960s that the world’s fourth largest lake (68,000 km2) has virtually dried up. This event had a negative impact on the economic situation of the surrounding settlements – about 40-60 thousand fishermen lost their livelihood. Local populations’ health of living conditions deteriorated. Today, the disappearance of the Aral Sea is considered to be one of the greatest anthropogenic environmental catastrophes.

Cross-border problems

River basins, especially transboundary basins, clearly express the need for global cooperation. In Tajikistan, for example, there are large hydropower plants. In their dams, river water is collected during periods of floods, so that the HPP can operate continuously during dry periods. Downstream countries need water for irrigation just as Tajikistan accumulates it in dams. This is a rather serious problem, especially from a political point of view.

Sectoral development

In addition to the cooperation between the countries, sectoral cooperation was also necessary for the proper development of water resources. For example, in one state, the agricultural sector may develop a strategy to rehabilitate irrigation systems, adding new systems, and thus maximize irrigation, while the energy sector may plan to maximize the country’s existing hydropower potential. Both directions independently plan to use actually the same water resource.


Planning the use of river basin resources

Proper planning implies an integrated approach, i.e water resources management should be integrated for all sectors and not planned separately. Only in this way is it possible to effectively allocate water resources to all priority sectors.

Basin Management Plan

When planning water resources management, as already mentioned, the use of a pool approach is required. It is essential that there are pool management councils that work on a strategic plan and make recommendations on the basis of which the government will make a decision.

Involvement of all stakeholders and water users in the management process, including Ecosystem services

All those who are interested in using the water of a particular river basin should be involved in the management process and the decision should definitely be made taking into account the interests of all parties involved. Along with other sectors, in parties, first of all we mean the local population and the ecosystems whose functioning depends on this or that water.

Working with students

  • Large river basins
  • Stakeholders in the river basin
  • How to distribute water in conditions of deficit
Back to: Teaching Sustainable Use of Water Resources – Educator Course > Cycle 1: Geography of River Basin