Transboundary Water Risk Governance Research of Talau – Loes Riverbasin: Call for PhD Applicant


Talau River [To the left is Timor Leste; to the right is West Timor, Indonesia]
PhD research at Charles Darwin University, Australia – [for potential PhD students from ADS/Endeavour/LPDP/BUDI]  [An Insights from CDU-Undana-UNTL Workshop on Timor Leste and Indonesia Transboundary Watershed Management]

Contact:  Dr. Jonatan A. Lassa [] 

[Note Contact me if you are interested!]

Background: A note from the Field

“Twenty five years ago, we used this irrigation channel. But it is now too high for the water to come in. So a few years ago the government of Timor Leste built this new channel.” Said Jose (not a real name) a gentlemen who have been living in Bobonaro since his childhood. Mr Jose is about in his +40s but looks older than his age and he has been witnessing changes in the river flow. The difference of ground elevation between the old and new primary irrigation channel is about +2m [See Picture taken at the bottom].[1]

Standing from the Timor Leste side, we saw the other side of the river – a village in Lamaknen, Indonesia – where we could see gabion structure built to either stabilise the slope or to protect the irrigation channel protection. The two countries with shared border and culture but each would have different solutions to water problems.

Our visit was part of sense making experience of the real world problem – part of the international workshop on Food Security and Integrated Watershed Management at the shared border of Indonesia and Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Cross-border held in Atambua 25-27 April, 2018.

The field visit allowed us to think about how we link climatic change and risk, water management, food security, droughts and resilience together in the context of the story above? But everybody might agree that to solve water use problem in transboundary settings such as Loes-Talau river basins, it took three countries to sit and talk for sustainable solution. At least 60 people attended the workshops – they come from national ministries, provincial agencies, and universities from Indonesia, Timor Leste and Australia. Disciplinary background of the participants also varies (+20 disciplinary backgrounds).

Interestingly, the workshop, as the first step towards developing a cross-border watershed research and implementation framework – aimed at the following outcomes:

  • Demonstrate political consensus for and begin formal development of a long-term collaborative research and implementation program addressing food security, livelihood and prioritized integrated watershed management issues in the Talau – Loes watershed
  • Identify and agree on core research and knowledge gaps
  • Identify a short-list of prioritized applied research and implementation tasks, and synergies with pro­spective research and funding partners

 Potential PhD Project

The insights from the sense making exercise were beyond natural science interests (e.g. mapping river budget, mapping sediment transports, forest and vegetation covers or flood /drought hazard mappings). The field visit arrangement for one of the groups required diplomatic solution. The result was fantastic as our groups were allowed to cross-border without strict immigration procedures and controls.

One potential agenda can be from interdisciplinary social science (linking political science, International Relation, disaster studies, anthropology and development studies) with a focus on the following topics:

  • Literature review – what types of questions being asked in the previous studies? Systematic review of published work on existing transboundary water governance in other settings: from Central Asia, Mekong River Commission, and Nile River (Ethiopia and Egypt) could be also useful.
  • Potential institutional and governance scenario in the future: What kind of institutional architecture is needed to solve the transboundary water problems (e.g. Dore et. al. 2012) ? [Baseline studies needed: understanding comparative institutional landscape and arrangement between TL/Indonesia on food-water and risk governance. This includes understanding decision making and policy landscape in TL/Indonesia.
  • What are the national interest of Indonesia and Timor Leste in the Transboundary arrangement of Loes-Talau? (e.g. Hirsch et. al. 2006).
  • Understanding conflict and cooperation in transboundary river of Talau – Loes (e.g. Zeitoun and Mirumachi 2008 and Zeitoun et. al. 2011).
  • A historical institutionalism approach to understanding water use in Talau Loes during past and present and the future (e.g. before 1975, during 1975-1999, today and the future)


Transdisciplinary vision: Do we need different way of doing research?

There are many problems in the world that could not be solved using single disciplinary lenses. In today’s rising complexity and interdependency of the world, projects on social and policy change are no longer a simple endeavor. Water problem and food insecurity have becoming interdisciplinary problem as their solution required interdisciplinary understanding of realities. The Nicolescu’s 1996 Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity called for ‘‘New Vision of the World’’ with three pillars of transdisciplinarity: complexity, multiple levels of reality or multidimensionality and the logic of the included middle (Klein 2004).

The workshop in Atambua set the stage where policy makers, practitioners and academics can suggests future research questions. There have been productive exchanges between different communities of practice as well as academic. The workshop satisfies the transdisciplinary research criteria because different academic disciplines working jointly with different stakeholders including government officials and NGO practitioners to solve a real-world problem (Klein et. al. 2001).

Conclusion and update!

We need at least one PhD to work on one of the issue above. I am welcoming ADS/Endeavour/LPDP/BUDI applicants who might be interested in the project.

Hopefully we can get one for this.


Dore, J., Lebel, L. and Molle, F. 2012. A framework for analysing transboundary water governance complexes, illustrated in the Mekong Region. Journal of Hydrology 466–467:23-36.

Hirsch, P Jensen, KM Boer, BW Carrard, NR Fitzgerald, SA Lyster, R. 2006.  National Interests and  Transboundary Water Governance  in the Mekong. Australian Mekong Resource Centre, School of Geosciences, U. of Sydney in collaboration with Danida.

Klein, J.T., Grossenbacher-Mansuy, W., Häberli, R., Bill, A., Scholz, R.W., and Welti, M.: 2001, Transdisciplinarity: Joint Problem Solving among Science. An Effective Way for Managing Complexity, Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 332pp.

Klein, J.T.: 2004, Prospects for transdisciplinarity, Futures 36, 515–526.

Paisley, RK. and Henshaw, TW. 2013. Transboundary governance of the Nile River Basin: Past, present and future. Environmental Development 7:59-71.

Zeitoun, M. and Mirumachi, N. 2008. Transboundary water interaction I: reconsidering conflict and cooperation. International Environmental  Agreements. 8:297–316

Zeitoun, M., Mirumachi, N., and Warner,J.  2008 Transboundary water interaction II: the influence of ‘soft’power. International Environmental Agreements. 11(2):159-178.


Annex 1. The International Workshop in Atambua

The workshop held by Con­sortium for Sustainable Dryland Agriculture in Atambua on 25-27 April was funded by DFAT Australia via Charles Darwin University.

The dryland consortium was historically initiated by UNDANA-CDU-UNTL with initial funds generously supported by the Indone­sian Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Universitas Nusa Cendana (UNDANA), Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara Province, established a Con­sortium for Sustainable Dryland Agriculture on behalf of other regional Indo­nesian (Universitas Mataram of West Nusa Tenggara Province, and Universitas Halu Oleo of South East Sulawesi), Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosae of Dili, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (DRTL), and Charles Darwin University of Darwin, Australia.

One of the rational of the consortium is to address challenges such as climatic risks that impact food and water security in Timor-Leste, eastern Indonesia, and northern Australia as they all share geographic borders and many issues in common, including major economic and social challenges associated with living in a seasonally arid climate.  Location of Field visit on 26 April 2016 in Tonabibie, Bobonaro, Timor Leste

Detail contacts:

Jonatan Lassa, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer & Unit Coordinator DEM511, DEM513 & DEM514

Humanitarian, Emergency and Disaster Management Studies
College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society
Building: Yellow 1.2.58, Casuarina Campus 
Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, AUSTRALIA

+61 8 8946 6756| M. +61 466 880 630 | F. +61 8 8946 6712
E mail:  |  Web: 

Links to list of publication and cv: 


[1] Based on Google maps, the location of the irrigation channel is slightly on Indonesia side. This is also proven by the constructed benchmark by both GoI and GoTL. Dynamic nature of many transboundary rivers in Timor Island make it difficult to have a fixed boundary from year to year.

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