• Institutional coordination;
  • institutional reform;
  • basin organization;
  • environmental governance;
  • sustainable development;
  • Mekong River Basin


Water is fundamental for the development of any society. Several concepts in water management promote integration, cooperation and a basin-wide approach as a means to achieve sustainable development of water resources. Management institutions aiming to put these concepts into practice are developed around the world, with varying success. This paper looks at the institutional setting in the Tonle Sap Lake area in Cambodia, and analyses three initiatives for establishing a coordinating organization for the lake basin. Due to the significance of the Tonle Sap to the entire country and the transboundary Mekong River Basin, the area's management is an important yet contested issue. Our study indicates that while the discussion about the most suitable forms of management revolves around commonly accepted ideals of cooperation and sustainability, the actual drivers for institutional reforms are strongly influenced by the existing institutions and their political rivalries and interests. Following, the basin-wide approach currently dominant in water management — for good and logical reasons — can actually hinder institutional cooperation, as the existing institutional hegemons may see it as a threat to their mandate. We therefore argue that a process seeking to establish a new basin organization should pay particular attention to the existing institutions, including the way the differing scales, levels and boundaries within the basin affect their relations.