Against the background of global climate change, shrinkage of glaciers and changes in snow cover have been observed in the Central Asian High Mountains over the past decades. Depending on the type and intensity of water use, changes in runoff availability and regimes will affect rural populations and other economic sectors that are highly dependent on abundant water supplies. The project aims to assess the spatio‐temporal variability of the contributions of glacier and snow melt to total river runoff for a case study area in the Northern Tien Shan. This will be complemented with a detailed assessment of the socio‐ecological vulnerability of the affected communities and economic sectors to past and potential future changes in runoff. The project is coordinated by German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), with partners from the Central Asian Institute of Applied Geosciences (CAIAG, Kyrgyzstan), The Kyrgyz Russian‐Slavic University (Kyrgyzstan), the Tian Shan Policy Center of the American University of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan), and the Regional Centre for Hydrology (Kazakhstan). UNU‐EHS and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) are both involved as associated partners. Funding is provided through the Volkswagen Foundation. UNU-EHS in its role as associated partner supports the project activities focusing on an in‐depth analysis of vulnerability covering its various dimensions. The existing social, institutional, political and biophysical conditions are important factors that influence the response capacity and determine existing coping mechanisms and adaptation strategies. A comprehensive vulnerability assessment hence needs to reflect the complexity and the multitude of factors by accounting for the local conditions as well as for impacts from higher scales. An participatory, indicator‐based vulnerability assessment approach will be developed that captures all factors influencing vulnerability in order to help localizing and monitoring different degrees of vulnerability.