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The river basin as a new scale for water governance in transition countries? A comparative study of Mongolia and Ukraine


While various studies on river basin management (RBM) in industrialized and developing countries exist, limited attention has so far been paid to RBM in transition countries, i.e., countries that move from a centralized socialist system to democratic, decentralized and market-based structures. However, given that transition countries are characterized by fundamental changes in their political and economic setting, they amend themselves to the study of the role of both institutional design and contextual factors in the institutionalization of RBM. Against this background, this paper analyzes similarities and differences in the institutionalization of RBM in Mongolia and Ukraine and asks how they can be explained. The paper finds that while the two countries are converging in terms of the model of the river basin organization (RBO) adopted, they differ significantly in detailed institutional design and dynamics. The differences in institutional design are likely to influence the effectiveness of RBM in both countries. The differences in design and dynamics can be understood if contextual factors such as the severity of the water problem, economic conditions, the overriding governance context and the role of various actors are taken into account. The results show that not only is the detailed design of RBOs crucial for successful implementation of RBM, but also problem pressure as well as the broader governance and economic context.

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  1. 1.

    Note that our definition of transition does not include autocracies under former Soviet influence.

  2. 2.

    In Sect. 2.2, “leadership and external actors” was mentioned as an additional contextual factor. However, strictly speaking this is less an external contextual factor, but more a process factor. Therefore, it is not included in the following analysis, but it will be taken up in Sect. 5.2 again.

  3. 3.

    It has to be noted that Ukraine was a Soviet Republic whereas Mongolia was independent, but adjusted its system to the Soviet model and was also highly influenced in its politics by the Soviet Union.

  4. 4.

    Countries under former Soviet influence vary with respect to their governance regimes (democracies versus autocracies) as well as with respect to their natural conditions and water problems (temperate versus arid climate). Hence, for a full-fledged representative analysis of water governance for this group of countries, all four factors would have to be varied.

  5. 5.

    Crimea is an exception because here the southern part is under sub-tropical climatic influence.


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This study was written on the basis of research conducted in two projects: the International Water Research Alliance Saxony (IWAS,, Grant 02WM1165), and the Integrated Water Resources Management in Central Asia-Model Regional Mongolia project (MoMo,, Grant UFZ-033L003A), both funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). We thank the BMBF for its financial support and Zak Seridarian for the English proof reading. The paper has also greatly benefited from the constructive comments of two anonymous reviewers.

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Dombrowsky, I., Hagemann, N. & Houdret, A. The river basin as a new scale for water governance in transition countries? A comparative study of Mongolia and Ukraine. Environ Earth Sci 72, 4705–4726 (2014).

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  • Ukraine
  • Mongolia
  • River basin management
  • River basin organizations
  • Governance scale
  • IWRM