How water should be managed in Monsoon Asia is emerging as one of the core earth system governance challenges. In this article, we explore the politics around pursuits of adaptiveness in water management, emphasizing the major transboundary river basins draining the south and eastern Himalayas. We look at two main functions: storing, diverting and sharing water for periods of scarcity; protecting people and places from destructive floods. We find that the pursuit of adaptiveness will take place partly outside the range of human experience in a context of large differences in exposure and vulnerabilities, disparate interests and unequal power. Anticipatory policies and actions to adapt and improve adaptive capacity to the transboundary impacts of changes in water-use, land-use and climate on water resources and services are still in their infancy; but several problem-framing discourses are emerging that have longer-term implications for water governance. It is not yet clear how these competing policy-frames will evolve in Asia. Much will depend on how systems of water governance develop. Public scrutiny of how governments in Asia plan to adapt to climate change in the water sector—on how risks of not enough and too much water are dealt with—will need to continue to help sort out those projects and strategies which are driven primarily by political benefits from those which actually contribute to building adaptive capacities and maintaining social-ecological resilience.
Keywords: Climate change; Water governance; Monsoon Asia; Transboundary rivers