Protecting Scarce Water Sources in Mongolia

The lifestyle of the 40% of Mongolians who live as nomads isn’t much like yours or mine here in Hong Kong: firewood is collected for heat, small animals are trapped for food, and water must be found if you and your herd are to survive.

As you might imagine, in dry Mongolia, water sources can be few and far between. Luckily, a small national population and vast expanses have helped ensure that Mongolia’s water resources remain intact, relative to neighboring Central Asian countries. By becoming a Conservation Champion, you can help us ensure safe freshwater sources across Asia.

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But Mongolia’s precious water sources may not remain pristine for much longer: the Mongolian government has issued thousands of licenses to mining projects, which — if not guided sustainably — have the potential to disrupt drainage patterns, deplete water supplies and create pollution problems that can persist for centuries.

Those developmental dangers are compounded by other threats. Climate change has dried up hundreds of lakes, springs and rivers; inadequate access to wastewater treatment means nomadic communities are often stuck with polluted water sources; and a covert industry of “ninja” or “artisanal” miners — numbering, by some estimates, nearly 100,000 — is spoiling streams and alluvial flats throughout the country.


Reason to Hope

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Despite these growing pressures, there are reasons to be hopeful. In recent years, the Mongolian government has passed new water protection acts, and ongoing tweaks to that law are giving the state enhanced water management powers. Recently, the Mongolian state revoked 250 mining licenses to protect sensitive headwaters. What else is the Conservancy up to in Mongolia? Learn more here.

For the herders and their herds, for the unique species like Gobi bears, Siberian ibex, and Saiga antelope who need water sources as well, the Conservancy’s work with Mongolia to ensure the security of their fresh water is, perhaps, the opposite of life-changing — its purpose is to allow life to continue to exist in places like the Eastern Steppe the way it has for thousands of years.