The ICOW River Claims Data Set

The river claims data set follows the general guidelines on the ICOW home page.

A river claim is defined as explicit contention between two or more nation-states over the use or abuse of a specific river (or river system). Official government representatives (i.e., individuals who are authorized to make or state foreign policy positions for their governments) must make explicit statements contesting the usage of that river, typically involving concerns of water quality (e.g. pollution), water quantity (e.g. dams or diversion of water for irrigation), or navigation along the river.

Please note that the ICOW Project and its directors do not take or endorse official positions on any river claims. Our goal is to identify cases where nation-states have disagreed over specific issues in the modern era, as well as measuring what made those issues valuable to them and studying how they chose to manage or settle those issues. Inclusion/exclusion of specific cases, and coding of details related to those cases, follows strict guidelines presented in the project's codebooks (which are available below).

Measuring Claim Salience

The salience of river claims is measured by a 0-12 index, which includes up to six points each for the claim's challenger and target states (one point each for six indicators of salience). For more details see the Hensel, Mitchell, Sowers, and Thyne JCR article listed below in the data set references section of this page. Note that each indicator is coded separately for each claimant, as many rivers have different uses in different riparian states:

Project Participants

Current Status

We have released data on claims, claim salience, militarization, and peaceful settlement attempts for the Western Hemisphere, Northern and Western Europe, and the Middle East for the years 1900-2001. A draft of all of this information for the remainder of the world has been collected, and will be released as soon as possible after it can be verified and cleaned.

RegionStatusNumber of Claims
(and Dyadic Claims)
Western Hemisphere Data collection completed (1900-2001) 20 distinct rivers
(28 dyadic claims/361 dyad-years)
Europe Western Europe: Data collection completed (1900-2001)

Eastern Europe: Research currently underway
Western Europe: 5 distinct rivers
(7 dyadic claims/81 dyad-years)

Eastern Europe: around 17 claims
(research still underway)
Africa Research currently underway  
Middle East Data collection completed (1900-2001) 11 distinct rivers
(47 dyadic claims/321 dyad-years)
Asia and Oceania Research currently underway  

Beginning in 2019, we have started publishing quarterly reviews of events occurring in any of the four current ICOW issue types -- territorial, river, maritime, or identity claims -- during three-month periods. These reviews describe such events as the beginning of new claims, the occurrence of military or other provocations related to the issue, and attempts to manage or settle the issues peacefully. Besides posting each quarterly review at the above link, we also offer a DuckDuckGo custom search that allows users to search for reviews that contain such terms as names of territories, countries, or leaders. (For now, this is limited to ICOW's quarterly reviews of news over territorial, river, maritime, or identity claims, covering events since the beginning of 2019. In the future, we plan to expand this search to include access to summary web pages for each of the more than 1200 claims identified by the ICOW project, which will be created as part of the next external grant that the ICOW project receives.)

Descriptive Details

Version 1.1 of the ICOW River Claims data set includes claims over a total of 36 distinct rivers or river systems. Some of these rivers are claimed by multiple claimants at various points in time or are settled temporarily only to see renewed claims later (perhaps over different uses of the river), so these claims include 82 dyadic claims that together cover 763 dyad-years. These claims have been managed through 19 militarized interstate disputes and 190 peaceful settlement attempts (including bilateral negotiations, non-binding third party activities like mediation or good offices, and binding third party activities like arbitration and adjudication).

Data Set References

The first published article to use the ICOW River Claims data set was Hensel, Mitchell, and Sowers' 2006 PG article:

A more recent article described an updated version of the data set, as well as comparing the territorial, river, and maritime claims data sets:

Several other recent papers investigate river claims more specifically:

Download the Codebooks and Data

All ICOW data sets may be downloaded freely, but we request several professional courtesies from users:

Coding Manuals

The following links provide access to the coding manuals and other useful information:


The river claims data set is included in the main ICOW data download, along with the territorial claims and maritime claims data sets:

We are also working on several other data sets related to international rivers, which many scholars might find useful for their own studies of rivers (whether or not they use the ICOW river claims data):

Please note that this, like all ICOW data sets, uses the list of country codes in the COW interstate system. Please see that list for help in identifying which countries were involved in the events included in this data set, or for any questions about when each country was considered a sovereign, recognized state.

Contact Information

The ICOW River Claims data set is collected and maintained by Paul Hensel at the University of North Texas. Please contact him with any questions about the data set:
Last updated: 21 November 2018
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