Lake Balaton Integrated Vulnerability Assessment, Early Warning, and Adaptation Strategies


In January 2006, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) –Strategic Priority on Adaptation (SPA) partnered with key actors in Hungary to address growing concerns about the ecological condition of Lake Balaton.  Using a GEF grant and substantial national co-financing through the Lake Balaton Development Coordination Agency (LBDCA), the overall purpose of the project was to gain a better understanding of Lake Balaton’s ecological and socio-economic vulnerability in order to build resilience to the multiple forces of global and local change. 

Lake Balaton, a fragile area with high human interaction, is sensitive to both natural and man-made influences.  Challenges brought about by climate change include frequent and severe water balance problems, lower levels of annual precipitation and problems concerning the biodiversity of the lake.  From an ecological and economical perspective, recent changes in water levels have alarmed both regional authorities and local stakeholders. To appropriately address these challenges, and in order to effectively adapt to the effects of climate change, a need to strengthen research on Lake Balaton’s vulnerability was identified.  For the project, integration of ecological and engineering knowledge with social and policy sciences was deemed equally essential.  Key lessons learned from the project implementation indicate that while it is important to establish partnerships with international networks, it is also imperative to target local stakeholders and rely more on local capacities.

Project Details

Located in western Hungary, Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe and one of the shallowest large lakes in the world. With a mild climate, the flora and fauna of the surrounding landscape is particularly diverse and a large number of rare and protected plant species can be found in the area. Additionally, the Lake Balaton Resort Area (LBRA) has significant agricultural and recreational value. Arable land, vineyards and orchards take up some 80% of agricultural land (49.1 % of LBRA’s land is agricultural), but the economy of LBRA is driven predominantly by highly seasonal tourism. Summer tourists, concentrated in lakeside communities, can temporarily triple the area’s population, exerting substantial stress on the environment and infrastructure.

Due to its shallow profile and precarious water quality and water balance situation, Lake Balaton is uniquely sensitive to both natural and anthropogenic influences. While the ecological parameters of the Lake and its watershed have long been in constant change, current trends appear to indicate the beginnings of a new trajectory, characterized by accelerated change increasing the vulnerability of both ecological and socio-economic subsystems. Adverse changes in environmental variables in the watershed have already led to increased costs. Following many years of water quality problems, including eutrophication, a negative water balance caused water shortages, starting in 2000, which lasted for four years. The exact causes are still being debated, as multiple forces of change are at play, including climate change.

Given Lake Balaton’s heavy reliance on tourism as a primary source of livelihoods, the socio-economic consequences of ecological deterioration can be severe and immediate. If the frequency of years with negative water balance increases in the future, as predicted by applicable climate change scenarios, Lake Balaton and its coupled socio-economic system is expected to emerge as a highly sensitive indicator of vulnerability to global change.

Thematic Area: 
Level of Intervention: 
Key Collaborators: 
Primary Beneficiaries: 
Lake Balaton communities
Implementing Agencies & Partnering Organizations: 
Lake Balaton Development Council (LBDC)
The Lake Balaton Development Coordination Agency
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Global Environment Facility (GEF)
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
LEAD International
National-Level Partners (Hungary)
Project Status: 
Financing Amount: 
Total amount: US$4,075,000; GEF (SPA): US$985,000
Co-Financing Total: 
Government of Hungary: US$ 3,000,000; UNEP: US$50,000; IISD (in-kind): US$40,000

Key Results and Outputs

Outcome 1:     Improved understanding of integrated vulnerability and adaptation options in the context of sustainable development in the Lake Balaton watershed
  • Output 1.1:   Description and analysis of baseline ecosystem and social system conditions and dynamics
  • Output 1.2:   Description and analysis of vulnerability under alternative adaptation scenarios

Outcome 2:     Strengthened organizational and individual capacity for interpreting emerging vulnerabilities, and increasing resilience by implementing adaptive measures in response
  • Output 2.1:   Capacity development strategy for adaptation
  • Output 2.2:   Training program to implement adaptation

Outcome 3:     Policy framework conducive to adaptive management strengthened
  • Output 3.1:   Policy mechanisms analyzed and developed to achieve better alignment between national policies and local adaptation needs

Outcome 4:     Pilot initiatives to facilitate adaptation to the impacts of climate change through direct action implemented
  • Output 4.1:   Guidelines for adaptation pilot projects
  • Output 4.2:   Adaptation pilot projects implemented

Outcome 5:     Knowledge generated and awareness raised of integrated vulnerability and adaptation approaches locally, nationally and internationally enhanced through knowledge management, dissemination and replication strategy
  • Output 5.1:   Engagement and influencing strategy
  • Output 5.2:   Synthesis report and other lessons learned and knowledge products prepared and communicated
  • Output 5.3:   Synthesis and communication of lessons learnt for regional and global audiences


Inception Workshop presentation - Intro to Hungary's Lake Balaton project

The project’s specific objectives were to contribute to a better understanding of the Lake Balaton ecological and socioeconomic system’s vulnerability and resilience arising from multiple forces of global and local change, including climate change, and build capacity for more effective policy-making and adaptation measures in response.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Since its inception in 2006, the project has successfully addressed two of its main goals.  First was to gain a better understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of the Lake Balaton ecological and socio-economic systems in the face of global and local changes. Second was to build capacity for more effective policymaking and adaptation measures in response to the lake’s increasing vulnerability to change,. 

 The first goal was accomplished by developing an integrated assessment model that enabled the study of the dynamics of environment and socio-economic interactions. This model, along with the quantitative indicators used, collected data and analysis results, can be easily accessed through a public database – the BalatonTrend portal.  This portal facilitates informed dialogue among local stakeholders by providing them with key information on economic and environmental trends concerning the Lake Balaton region.  Another tool used was the customized Soil and Water Assessment Tool or SWAT – a model designed to predict the impact of management on water, sediments, and agricultural chemical yields in non-monitored watersheds.  This pool of information enabled the formation of model scenarios and related procedures for medium- and long-term time frames. 

The second goal was achieved through strengthened decision-making as local needs were incorporated into national and regional policies.  Through facilitated dialogue between stakeholders, the project provided contributions to the Lake Balaton Long Term Development Plan, the National Climate Change Strategy, the 3rd National Environmental Movement Plan for Hungary and the River Basin Management Plan of the Lake Balaton.

Information sharing via training programs and workshops were organized since adapting to climate change became an important priority of both the public and private sectors.  The goal was to propagate new knowledge about adaptability, resilience, and vulnerability.  This “influencing-strategy” enabled local stakeholders to determine and implement their own adaptive strategies.  In fact, 31 adaptation pilot projects were implemented by local NGOs in the framework of the Norwegian Grant Progamme.  These projects aim to improve Lake Balaton’s resilience by developing shoreline management and addressing increased population pressures.

By the project’s conclusion in December 2008, it was able to contribute to a better understanding of the Lake Balaton’s ecological and socio-economic system as it responds to constant global and regional changes.  The project was able to improve vulnerability assessment, adaptation capacity, and the alignment of local needs to regional and national policies.  It also was successful in engaging various stakeholders, such as educational and research institutions, NGOs and the general public, in the implementation of the project.


Keti Chachibaia
Regional Technical Advisor
Lake Balaton Development Council
Dr. Gábor Molnár
Project Manager