Sustainable Water Management as a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in Western Mongolia | WWF

Sustainable Water Management as a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in Western Mongolia

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > North Asia/Mongolia > Mongolia


The project is a pilot project focusing on the Khovd River Basin within the Great Lakes Basin of Western Mongolia. It aims to introduce an Intergrated River Basin Management (IRBM) approach in an attempt to tackle the numerous threats facing the effective and sustainable use of available water resources.

Working with the Mongolian government, WWF will attempt to introduce measures which will help the region adapt to climate change.


The Great Lakes Basin (GLB) of western Mongolia includes a globally outstanding collection of distinct landscapes, containing some of the most biologically valuable and internationally recognized freshwater ecosystems in Central Asia.

The common thread that ties the Great Lakes Basin’s high mountain ranges, glaciers, valleys, forests, forest steppes, large lakes and wetlands, semi-desert areas and parts of the Gobi Desert into one functional unit is the common watershed. 60% of the water resources in Mongolia lie in the Great Lakes Basin. The region is an aggregation of several closed inland depressions, where existing water resources are highly limited, and surface runoff never drains to an ocean.

The Great Lakes Basin is thus a very carefully balanced and sensitive region in terms of hydrological processes (precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, and water recharge) which depend on the functional integrity of the entire watershed. The impacts of climate change are already upsetting this balance and the situation is forecast to worsen. Multiple additional threats such as increased overgrazing, large new dams planned or already under construction, old and ineffective irrigation systems, an expected increase in the tourism sector, and a rise in the mining and gravel extraction severely threaten and aggravate the situation.

Onto this vulnerable backdrop of specific threats are painted the existing high levels of water consumption, a situation which is complicated by the different economic interests of the people and stakeholders living in the basin, as well as the different ethnic groups in the basin.

Until now there has been no reliable data available on the hydrological characteristics and water use in the basin. This is an urgent requirement for defining the challenges which are to be met and the precautions which need to be taken in order to preserve the Great Lakes Basin and its unique nature and wildlife for those people dependent on it now and in the future.

The Mongolian Government has recognized the urgency for effective and sustainable use and management of the available water resources - not only in the Great Lakes Basin, but also at a national level. In 2004 it introduced the Water Law at WWF Mongolia’s urging. This law, however, is still a ‘paper law’ and urgently needs concrete projects whose implementation further strengthen these new water management policies.

With this project, WWF Mongolia, together with the Mongolian authorities aspires to establish the institutional capacity and structures to meet the challenges in the Great Lakes Basin through a pilot in the Khovd River Basin within the Great Lakes Basin.


Ensure the ecological integrity of the Khovd River Basin and the sustainable management of its water and related resources as a climate change adaptation strategy in western Mongolia.


This project proposes to safeguard the ecological integrity of almost 60,000km2 of important wetlands, riparian forests, rangelands and protected areas (recognized at an international level as unique in the world) and ensure sustainable use of water resources throughout the Khovd River Basin in the Great Lakes Basin of Western Mongolia, demonstrating that sustainable water management is a good climate change adaptation strategy in western Mongolia.

To abate the many and complex threats in the Khovd River Basin, a fully participatory and holistic approach involving all key stakeholders is required. A dialogue will be initiated between the many water users to understand and solve the conflicts between their various interests (herding, agriculture, industry, production of hydropower etc).

A river basin management plan will be drawn up (Khovd River Basin Management Plan) and agreed with a River Basin Council (Khovd River Basin Council, which is representative of all stakeholders). Once this management plan is approved by the government authorities, there will be a legal framework governing how the water, land and related resources can be sustainably managed for the long term.

The project proposes to adopt the ‘Integrated River Basin Management’ (IRBM) approach. This is an integrative and holistic approach, widely recognized by the international conservation arena (e.g EU Water Initiative) and adopted by the WWF as the most efficient and successful tool for water resource management.

Financial implications for setting up River Basin Councils and ensuring implementation of river basin management plans will be explored to develop guidelines for the financial operation of these structures over the long term. This would furthermore strengthen the Mongolian Water Law of April 2004.