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|Year: 2011||Revision date: --||Revision type: --|
|Regional report:||Water Report 37, 2012|
Mongolia is located in the north of the central Asian plateau and has an area of about 1.56 million km2 (Table 1). It is a landlocked country bordered in the north by the Siberian Russian Federation, and in the east, south and west by China. Administratively the country is divided into 21 provinces (aimags), each with a provincial capital and a local government headed by an aimag governor, and the capital city Ulaanbaatar.
The country consists principally of inter-mountain plateaux. About 80 percent of the territory lies above 1 000 m above sea level. The main mountain ranges are the Mongolian Altai in the west and the Khangai and Khentii mountains in the north and centre, with the large depression of the Great Lakes located between the two ranges, while to the east there are elevated plains. Geographically, Mongolia can be divided into four regions: Khangai forest region, the eastern steppe region, Gobi (Govi in Mongolian) desert region and the semi-desert region.
The total cultivable area is an estimated 1.8 million ha, which is about 1 percent of the total area. Some 80 percent of the total land area can be used for pastoral activities. The main crop growing areas are in the central-northern part of the country and include portions of Selenge, Tov and Bulgan provinces, which contain about 67 percent of all cultivated land. These areas comprise a broad basin draining to the north. Only valley bottom land and the lower slopes of hills with sufficiently deep soils are cultivated. In 2009, the total cultivated area was estimated at 962 000 ha, of which 960 000 was arable land and 2 000 ha permanent crops. Only 10 percent of the country is forested (FAO, 2003).
The country has severe climatic conditions with long cold winters. The average annual precipitation is 241 mm, ranging from 400 mm in the north to less than 100 mm in the southern Gobi region. The mean monthly temperature is below 0 °C throughout the country between November and March. Late spring and early autumn (even late summer) frosts reduce the vegetation period to 80-100 days in the north and 120-140 days in the south. Summer precipitation occurs between June and August, representing 80-90 percent of the total annual rainfall. Other climatic factors affecting agricultural production include low soil moisture and air humidity in spring and early summer, and strong winds in spring, resulting in high evaporation and soil erosion.
The total population in 2009 was 2.7 million, of which around 39 percent lived in rural areas (Table 1). Mongolia is sparsely populated with the lowest average population density in the world, 2 inhabitants/km2, but there are 180 inhabitants/km2 in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. The annual population growth rate during the period 1999-2009 was 1.3 percent.
In 2008, access to improved drinking water sources reached 76 percent (97 and 49 percent for the urban and rural population respectively). Sanitation coverage accounts for 50 percent (64 and 32 percent for the urban and rural population respectively).
In 2009, the total population economically active in agriculture was an estimated 221 000, amounting to 18 percent of the economically active population. About 52 percent of the population economically active in agriculture are women. In 2009, the gross domestic product (GDP) was US$4 202 million of which agriculture accounted for 24 percent.
The Mongolian agriculture sector is divided into four subsectors:
The livestock sector dominates, contributing almost 85 percent of total agricultural production (FAO, 2001).
The country adopted a free-market economy in 1990. The privatization of crop production has partly failed and is still incomplete. Under liberalization policies, the original, very large production units were to be privatised, reduced in size and organized into various types of companies. In the beginning the number of these companies increased rapidly, then many disappeared during the break up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), because of inadequate access to credit, inflation and mismanagement in the new free market conditions. By 1997, only 300 large wheat farms (between 1 000 and 30 000 ha each) remained operational (FAO, 2001).
In 1992, cereals occupied nearly 90 percent of the total cropped area, but declined as a result of the reduced availability and increased cost of production inputs and lack of working capital. About 8 percent of the total arable area was devoted to fodder crops. Potatoes and vegetables together accounted for 1.5 percent of the area planted, while fruit trees covered 0.5 percent of the total area.
Mongolia is situated on three international river basins (Mongolian River Resources, 2010):
Located within these international basins are eight major regional basins, determined by their economic and environmental significance (Mongolian River Resources, 2010):
There are about 4 113 rivers in Mongolia, with a total length of 67 000 km. Large rivers originate in the mountainous areas in the north and west of the country – primarily in the Mongol Altai, Khangai-Khuvsgul and Khentii mountain ranges – where small rivers and mountain streams merge to create well-developed water networks. In contrast, the southern, central and southeastern parts of the country have few rivers or other water resources. In the interior drainage basins, in the western and southern areas of Mongolia, seasonal or intermittent streams end in salt lakes or disappear into the desert. The rivers’ main water sources are rainfall, groundwater, snow and glaciers, with melting snow accounting for 15-20 percent of the annual runoff. From November to May, the rivers in the north are frozen. Waterways in the Gobi Desert are fed almost exclusively by groundwater. Sixty percent of Mongolia’s river runoff drains into the Russian Federation and China, while the remaining 40 percent flows into the lakes of the Gobi Desert. The longest rivers within the Mongolian territory are (Mongolian River Resources, 2010):
Mongolia’s long-term average annual renewable water resources include 32.7 km3 of surface water and 6.1 km3 of groundwater. Part of the groundwater flow, estimated at 4 km3/year, returns to the river system as base flow and is called overlap (Table 2). This gives a total of 34.8 km3/year (32.7+6.1-4.0) for internal renewable water resources (IRWR). It is estimated that no water enters the country from neighbouring countries, but that 25 km3/year flows into the Russian Federation and 1.401 km3/year into China.
There are some 3 060 natural lakes with surface area larger than 100 ha or 0.1 km2. The lake with the largest surface area is Lake Uvs (3 518 km2), which is a saline lake without an outlet (Table 3). Lake Khuvsgul has the greatest volume (384 km3) and depth (139 m). It contains 74 percent of the total freshwater resources of Mongolia, and is fed by 46 rivers and other large lakes. In the higher mountainous regions the potential evaporation is lower than the annual precipitation and, therefore, the lakes never dry up and persist against periods of drought. In areas such as the Valley of Lakes, however, it is the opposite and therefore the lakes there can become quite shallow in very dry areas. Most of the medium lakes such as Orog, Taatsyin Tsagaan, Adgiin Tsagaan and Ulaan in the Valley of Lakes dry up once or twice every 11-12 years, which can lead to an ecological crisis when millions of fish, aquatic plants and animals die in isolated spots of concentrated saline mud left by the drying lake (Davaa et al., 2007).
In 1999, about 27 earth dams were constructed to store water for sprinkler irrigation systems. A small part (55 km2) of the catchment drained by the Boroo river is intercepted by the Shariin Am dam and storage reservoir facility. The Shariin river is a narrow and shallow river with a small dam about 4 m high, capable of impounding a small storage reservoir with a regulating capacity of about 250 000 m3.
The theoretical hydropower potential in 1999 was an estimated 5 500-6 000 MW. There is a 528 kW mini-hydroplant in operation (the Kharakhoum scheme) on an irrigation canal that diverts water from the Orkhon river.
There are about 210 rivers flowing through Mongolia into the Russian Federation and China. The first international agreement on transboundary water resources was between the governments of Mongolia and the USSR in 1974. This stipulated the use of water and protection of the Selenge river basin, which plays an important role in the economic and industrial development of both countries. The agreement made between the governments of Mongolia and the Russian Federation in 1995 on the protection of transboundary water resources focuses on over 100 small rivers and streams located in the western part of the country.
The drainage basins of the transboundary rivers between Mongolia and the Russian Federation cover almost one-third of Mongolia’s territory. In 1994, an agreement was signed between China and Mongolia on the protection of transboundary water resources concerning Lake Buir, the Kherlen, Bulgan, Khalkh rivers, and 87 small lakes and rivers located near the border. Transboundary water resources shared with China include surface water bodies in Dornod, Hovd, and Bayan-Olgiy provinces and groundwater resources in Govi-Altay, Omnogovi, Bayanhongor, Suhbaatar and Dornogovi provinces (UN, 2006b).
In 1996, total water withdrawal from groundwater (80 percent) and surface water (20 percent) was equal to 400 million m3, of which 138 million m3 (34.6 percent) for livestock, including irrigated fodder production, 32 million m3 (7.9 percent) for irrigation of other crops, 101 million m3 (25.2 percent) for municipalities, 103 million m3 (25.8 percent) for industry and 26 million m3 (6.5 percent) for other needs (Myagmarjav and Davaa, 1999).
In 2005, total water withdrawal was about 511 million m3, of which around 227 million m3 (44 percent) for agriculture, 122 million m3 (24 percent) for municipalities and 162 million m3 (32 percent) for industries (Table 4 and Figure 1). About 82 percent, or 419 million m3, was contributed by groundwater resources (Figure 2).
Irrigation in Mongolia was probably developed under the Huns in the first century. Irrigation development appears to have peaked at about 140 000 ha during the seventeenth and eighteenth century.
Traditional irrigation methods had been largely abandoned by the end of the nineteenth century. Chinese ‘migrants’ developed comparatively small-scale schemes on the larger rivers. ‘Modern’ irrigation development started in the 1950s, and the first modern irrigation scheme was designed in 1955.
About 518 000 ha with irrigation potential were identified at reconnaissance level in the early 1970s, of which 117 000 ha have been studied in more detail for potential development. Starting in 1971, some small irrigation schemes were built in the western aimags. A government campaign began in 1975 to produce irrigated fodder in the western and Gobi regions. The construction of further irrigation schemes, large and small, continued until 1988.
In the 1980s, irrigation schemes were characterized by sprinkler systems, generally serving from 400 to 500 ha or more, primarily for fodder and cereal production and, to a lesser extent, for vegetables and potato production.
In 1993, the total area equipped for irrigation was an estimated 84 300 ha. The total area equipped for full control irrigation amounted to 57 300 ha, of which 43 400 ha under sprinkler systems (registered schemes) and 13 900 ha of systems using surface irrigation methods (unregistered schemes) (Table 5 and Figure 3). In addition, an estimated 27 000 ha of pasture benefited from traditional floodwater diversion (spate irrigation). The area equipped for full control irrigation that is actually irrigated was estimated as 35 000 ha (61 percent), while 62 900 ha (75 percent) of the total area equipped for irrigation was actually irrigated.
An inventory of 156 registered schemes exists, covering a total of 43 400 ha and varying in size between 5 and 3 300 ha, two-thirds of them being smaller than 50 ha. Most schemes have been developed in the north (48 percent) and west (47 percent). Unregistered schemes, an estimated 80 percent, are concentrated in the west of the country, are smaller (1-100 ha) and are the result of spontaneous efforts by local people, or are state schemes taken over by companies and private individuals after being abandoned.
Of the sprinkler irrigated area, side-roll systems account for 43 percent, tractor-mounted water guns or sprinkler booms for 28 percent, centre pivots for 25 percent and movable laterals for 4 percent. About 46 percent of the total irrigated area is served by gravity canals and the remaining 54 percent by buried steel pipes. In 1993, 36 099 ha or 37 percent of the total area equipped for full control irrigation was irrigated by surface water and 21 201 ha or 63 percent by groundwater (Figure 4).
The total sprinkler irrigated area has been in steady decline with the privatization of the state farms operating the systems and the subsequent lack of finance. Producers growing crops on irrigated areas experienced high operation costs, huge energy consumption and shortage of skilled and trained labour on the farms. It was not possible to fully exploit the production potential of the irrigated areas.
Sprinkler irrigation was difficult to operate and sometimes this method leached the soil. It also had high operation and maintenance costs, and produced overcapacity, which sometimes could not be harvested (FAO, 2003). In 1992, only 52 percent of the total area under sprinkler systems, or 22 000 ha, was operational. Of the remaining area, 11 000 ha are classified as abandoned for irrigation purposes, while the other 10 000 ha are defined as non-functional owing to failed or missing equipment. Individual irrigators have established plots on schemes as the farming companies have withdrawn from irrigation.
Because of the dry character of the country, especially in the Gobi and steppe zones, a reliable harvest vegetables or other crops is possible only using irrigation; rainfed crop production is limited. As most precipitation falls in summer little humidity is kept in the soil (FAO, 2003).
During the 1980s, fodder crops accounted for approximately 50 percent of the area irrigated under sprinkler systems, annual cereal crops (mainly wheat) for 20-40 percent, potatoes for 5-10 percent, vegetables (mainly cabbage, onions, carrots and turnips) for 5-10 percent, and fruit (seabuckthorn, blackcurrant and Siberian apples) for less than 2 percent. Unregistered irrigation schemes have focused primarily on potatoes, vegetables and fruit production, with significant areas of fodder production in the west and south. Fodder, cereals and potatoes have suffered from the reduction in irrigation extension. Vegetables, some fruits and early potatoes are the main crops currently grown on irrigation schemes.
In 1986, total crops harvested amounted to 869 300 tonnes with 15 700 tonnes (2 percent) from irrigated areas. In 1999, the total harvest was 171 200 tonnes with 2 500 tonnes (1.4 percent) from irrigated areas. In other words, over a period of 15 years there was a steady decline to only one-fifth of the original production (by tonnage). Comparing 1999 with 1986, the production of wheat declined 3.9 times, potatoes 1.1 times, vegetables 1.1 times, and planted fodder crops 40 times. In the past Mongolia was self-sufficient in crop produce. In 1999, because of the hot weather, there was a poor harvest (FAO, 2003).
According to cost estimates provided by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in 1993, registered irrigation investment averaged US$1 300/ha at 1993 prices, with infrastructure representing 87 percent of this amount. In 1995, an FAO mission estimated new irrigation establishment costs at approximately US$2 000/ha and rehabilitation costs at approximately US$700-1 000/ha.
The main institutions dealing with agriculture and water resources development are the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry (MOFALI) and the Ministry of Environment (MOE). MOFALI is responsible for rural water supply and contains the Department of strategic planning and Policy, which is the Water Policy and Regulation Unit (Batnasan, 2003). MOE is responsible for water conservation. Under this ministry is the Agency of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment Monitoring and the Agency for Nature, Forest and Water resources, which contains the Center for Water Research.
Currently, Mongolia has no fully developed integrated institutional infrastructure on river basin management issues.
In 2000, the National Water Committee (NWC) was established to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the National Water Programme (Batsukh et al., after 2005). In addition to the MOFALI and the MOE other ministries are involved in the NWC, such as the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Infrastructure (Batnasan, 2003).
The management of the country’s water resources is detailed in the Law on Water, enacted in 1995 to regulate the protection, effective use and restoration of water. It also focuses on capacity-building in the water sector and the decentralization of water management (Asia Foundation, 2010).
Dutch engineering companies, in close collaboration with UNESCO-IHE, plan to support the Mongolian Ministry of Environment in its mission to modernize water management in Mongolia. The project entitled ‘Strengthening integrated water resources management (IWRM) in Mongolia’ aims to introduce IWRM into the country as well as expand the knowledge and skills in the Mongolian water sector. The project initiators aim to transfer their know-how to the local community by providing training for the project partners. Meanwhile, two university courses on water management will be set up in Mongolia. The Mongolian water sector is currently facing a variety of challenges. There is a lack of safe drinking water and insufficient sanitation for the entire population (MDGs). The project started in January 2009 and is set to finish in four years. The total budget estimated for the project is €6.5 million (UNESCO-IHE, 2009).
Mongolia’s pricing policy is decentralized and local authorities are entitled to set up and revise the water tariffs (UN, 2006a). Mongolia’s Law on Water covers pricing policies intended to ensure cost recovery and the equitable allocation of water resources. In 2008, however, only 65 percent of water costs were recovered through pricing, partly because of the country’s present economic conditions. For example, although the regulation states that all water used by industry will be charged, industries are not making enough profit to pay for the real costs of water. Water use for agriculture is free, although every user must establish a contract for the use of water, while household users pay small fees for their use (ADB, 2008).
A Water Law has been in force since June 1995 and was amended in 2004 to integrate river basin management practices with the goal of better use of water resources while protecting ecosystems. The Water Law also recognizes the economic value of water, requires capacity-building in the water sector, focuses on the decentralization of water management, puts forward the need for environmental impact assessments and sets new penalties for violating water legislation (Batsukh et al., after 2005).
In 1995, the Law on Water and Mineral Water Use Fees was also enacted, establishing fees for the use of water by citizens, companies and other organizations. Other laws related to water are the Environmental Protection Law, enacted in 1995, and the Environmental Impact Assessment Law, enacted in 1998 (Asia Foundation, 2010).
The Mongolian Action Programme for the twenty-first century, the National Water Programme and the National Action Programme on climate change were approved on 1998, 1999 and 2000 respectively (Batnasan, 2003).
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands were ratified by the Mongolian parliament in 1993 and 1997 respectively, and entered into force in 1994 and 1997 (Batnasan, 2003).
Freshwater ecosystems of Mongolia are subject to increasing and multiplying threats, including overgrazing, dams and irrigation systems, growing urbanization, mining and gravel extraction, climate change impact and lack of water management policies and institutional framework (Batnasan, 2003).
The Asia Foundation’s Securing Our Future (SOF) programme is a three-year initiative designed to promote the sustainable use of Mongolia’s natural resources that is focused on responsible mining and land-use practices. It is being jointly implemented by The Asia Foundation, The Netherlands, and a coalition of non-governmental, public and private sector partners. The overall purpose of the programme is to ensure that future mining activities in Mongolia generate long-term benefits for the people of Mongolia without compromising the nation’s ecological and social heritage.
SOF involves seven programme areas. Maximum community participation is sought in the decision-making process, in long-term collective management and use of the country’s vast natural resources. One of the seven areas focusses on the development of a Mongolian river water quality monitoring network. This will enlist citizens and students to work in partnership with Mongolian and expatriate scientific experts in the collection and dissemination of data on the quality of river water across the nation. It will lead to the compilation of a complete ecological inventory of Mongolian waterways (Asia Foundation, 2010).
Overuse of groundwater resources and climate change has led to lowering of the groundwater table, which has consequently caused some springs, lakes and their associated ecosystems to dry up.
Since the systematic observation period, from 1940 onwards, serious floods have been observed at Mongolia rivers, which have caused severe property damage and loss of life. About 18 flood events have been observed from 1996 to 1999 and have resulted in 54 lives lost and much property damages (Davaa et al., 2007).
Out of 10 000 cases of diarrhoea every year, almost 70 percent have occurred in the capital Ulaanbaatar. Dysentery and hepatitis are also common. These infections stem from a lack of access to safe water and sanitation infrastructure (UN, 2006a).
Solving the stressed present freshwater situation in Mongolia would require a coordinated approach of governmental institutions, donors, NGOs and key stakeholder groups on river basin level. Currently, however, there is no fully developed integrated institutional or legal infrastructure handling Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) issues. Thus, there is an urgent need to consider implementing the IRBM principles for sustainable water management (Batnasan, 2003).
ADB (Asian Development Bank). 2008. Country water action: Mongolia. Socializing water tariffs for cost recovery. Web Writer: Tigno C.
Batnasan, N. 2003. Freshwater issues in Mongolia. Proceeding of the National Seminar on IRBM in Mongolia, 24-25 Sept. 2003, Ulaanbaatar, p.53-61
Batsukh, N., Buyankhishig, N., Ouyn, D., Boldbaatar, Ya. After 2005. Sustainable development and groundwater resources of Mongolia.
Davaa, G., Oyunbaatar, D., Sugita, M. 2007. Surface water of Mongolia
FAO. 1999. Irrigation in Asia in figures. FAO Water Report no.18. Rome
FAO. 2001. Seed policy and programmes for the Central and Eastern European Countries, Commonwealth of Independent States and other Countries in Transition. FAO Plant Production and Protection Papers – 168.
FAO. 2003. Fisheries in irrigation systems of arid Asia: irrigation and fish production in Mongolia. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper - T430. Pg 162.
Government of Mongolia. 2010. Official website of the government organizations of Mongolia.
Mongolian River Resources. 2010. Mongolian river resources website.
Myagmarjav, D.B. & Davaa, G. 1999. Surface water of Mongolia. Interpress, Ulaanbaatar, 345 p.
Tuinhof, A. & Nemer, B. 2009. Groundwater assessment in the Gobi region. Report to the World Bank, prepared by Acacia Water.
United Nations. 2006a. The Second United Nations World Water Development Report: ‘Water, a shared responsibility’.
United Nations. 2006b. The Second United Nations World Water Development Report: Case Study: Mongolia with special reference to the Tuul River Basin
UNESCO-IHE. 2009. Dutch assistance to improve water management in Mongolia
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