Today, many of the world’s river and lake basins are threatened by environmental problems such as change in river flow, water pollution, reduced water availability, salt water intrusion, or loss of plant and animal species. International River Basin Organizations (RBOs) governing such rivers are increasingly in need to address such challenges. At the same time many of them receive technical and financial support from international donor organizations. The paper therefore addresses the question of how international financing institutions support adaptation capacities of RBOs. The aim is to identify conditions under which donor support to RBOs can support adaptation to environmental changes and improve the resilience of international water basins. It does so by focusing on two cases in Southern Africa, including the Orange-Senqu Basin and the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) as well as the Cubango-Okavango Basin and the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM). The findings of the paper illustrate an ambivalent role of international donors with regard to river basin adaptation. While they do provide important means for adaptation in form of knowledge, financial and technical resources, they can, at the same time, threaten the long-term sustainability of adaptation activities.