How We Free a Natural Paradise from Waste

How We Free a Natural Paradise from Waste

From Alena Hayer


In the summer of 2022, David Marchetti and I had the opportunity to travel to Central Asia and visit one of the most pristine places we have ever seen: Lake Hovsgol, considered one of the oldest and cleanest lakes in the world. Hovsgol is completely embedded in permafrost and freezes over completely for six long months every year when the air temperature drops to minus 40 °C, transformed into a road by the locals. The Hovsgol is home to traditional nomadic families who have lived here for centuries.

Mongolian Lake Hovsgol: big attraction, big challenges

In the summer months, life returns to the lake and with temperatures around 30 °C, it becomes a hotspot for national and international tourism. Visitors experience the beauty of the lake, the vastness of the tundra and the silence of the Siberian larch forests, they take horseback rides and go hiking along the lakeshore. Their numbers reached up to 140,000 per season before the Corona pandemic. Both professional tourist camps and "ger camps" run by local nomadic families, where people can spend the night in traditional yurts, benefit from the boom.

However, the Hovsgol National Park has a garbage problem. For many years, the volunteers of our partner ecoDevshilt have helped the park staff to collect waste and bring it to the local Hatgal landfill. Recently, however, they reached their limits in view of the constantly increasing amounts of waste. Since 2020, GNF has been cooperating with ecoDevshilt to make local tourism more sustainable by establishing a self-sustaining waste management system.

With concrete measures for less waste - and with the support of the embassy

Already at the entrance of the national park we could observe one of the project activities: ecoDevshilt distributes garbage bags against a deposit of 5,000 Mongolian Tugrik (approx. 1.50€), which the tourists have to bring back to a collection point. This not only helps ecoDevshilt to dispose of the garbage without transport costs, it also raises the awareness of the visitors

The impressive commitment and creativity shown to us by our partners - they are indeed all women - during the following days in the park makes us optimistic that the establishment of a waste management system for Lake Hovsgol by the end of 2023 is realistic.

Before leaving Mongolia, we spoke with Deputy Ambassador Regina Rutenberg at the German Embassy in Ulan-Bator. In 2021, Ambassador Jörn Rosenberg had already visited Hovsgol and our project, which is funded by the BMZ. It is important for us to continue to communicate closely with the German government and to demonstrate together how significant the measures implemented are - and thus to contribute to the protection of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.