Distributive Justice and Sustainability Goals in Transboundary Rivers: Case of the Nile Basin

S. G. Yalew*, J. Kwakkel, N. Doorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


The importance of cooperation on transboundary waters is stated as a target in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG6: water). Cooperation on transboundary water management is critical, particularly because it concerns issues across multiple states, SDGs and targets regarding agriculture, energy, ecosystems, climate adaptation, health, and peace and security. The percentage of transboundary basin area within a country that has an “operational arrangement” for water cooperation is used as the main indicator of such cooperation in the SDGs for “equitable and reasonable use“ of water resources (SDG 6.5.2). However, no clear criteria and explanation are available for what exactly constitutes an “equitable and reasonable use” in any such “operational arrangements.” Furthermore, it is understandable that any such arrangements may be shaped by differences in historical, legal, and political contexts and hence may be inherently unjust. Here, we highlight the limitations of SDG indicators, particularly SDG 6.5.2, to monitor equity of resource sharing in transboundary river systems. Using Walzer’s theory of morality of the state and cosmopolitanism as a framework, we examine the Nile basin as a case study to demonstrate the shortcomings of current SDG criteria and indicators. Our article contributes ideas of “operationalizing” theoretical justice toward a more equitable water management in transboundary rivers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number590954
JournalFrontiers in Environmental Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • grand renaissance dam
  • Nile basin
  • Nile basin initiative
  • water ethics
  • water justice


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