Demand in the Desert: Mongolia’s Water-Energy-Mining Nexus

Publication | August 2014

Water availability is constraining Mongolia's development as energy facilities, mining operations, agriculture, and urban residents compete for scarce water resources.

This knowledge product examines the water–energy nexus in Mongolia and the stress factors of urbanization and mining. The water–energy nexus is the interdependency between water systems and energy systems. Water systems need energy for pumping, water treatment, wastewater treatment, transport and distribution, end use, and water system development. Energy production requires water for primary extraction and mining; fuel production (e.g., hydrogen, ethanol, and biofuels); thermal electric cooling; hydropower; and emission control.

Competing for scarce water resources

Mongolia’s mining-based economic development and the sustainability of its urban economies depend on both water and energy. The examination of the water-energy nexus in two river basins in Mongolia shows that water availability is the binding constraint as energy facilities, mining operations, agriculture, and urban water users compete for scarce water resources.

The following recommendations provide some general guidance for the national government to consider in decisions that relate to water, energy, and mining, which are inextricably linked:

  • Integrate water resource considerations into decisions on energy and mining development;
  • Support green procurement for water and energy technologies;
  • Reduce the water intensity of energy production;
  • Get the economic incentives right; and
  • Strengthen water management institutions.


  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction to Mongolia’s Water–Energy Nexus
  • National Water and Energy Context
  • Tuul River Basin: Meeting the Water and Energy Demands of a City
  • South Gobi: Meeting the Water and Energy Needs for Mining
  • Challenges and Recommendations
  • Appendixes