Monday, 11 June 2018

China's Gold Mining in Tibet is a Strategic Move against India

By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen*

Hayua Gold Mine in Tashigang, Lhuntse in Tibet, near Indian border

A recent article in South China Morning Post (SCMP) about rapidly expanding Chinese gold mining activities in Tibet, close to India's border, reverberated the Sino-India border tension. The Post deliberately titled the article 'How Chinese mining in the Himalayas may create a new military flashpoint with India' to stir the volatile relation between the two neighbors.

The highly competitive Indian media quickly picked up the news with bits of its own exaggeration, which helps SCMP to achieve its long term commercial goal of expanding readership across the Indian subcontinent.

In between such political games and commercial interest, the views of the local communities are often overlooked and the importance of the places in case are constantly misunderstood. 

Lhuntse, from where the Chinese mining activity was reported, is only about 150 km from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. It is one of the 12 counties of Lhokha prefecture under the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) presently under Chinese occupation.
So why is Lhuntse suddenly in the news?

It's unlikely the Chinese government would have allowed large scale mining in a faraway, restricted area, where the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has stationed heavy military bases, unless there is a strategic plan. The most probable reason for the sudden surge in mining activities in Lhuntze could have been for two important issues - strategic and historical.

Strategic Move against India
The strategic plan is to heavily populate the region with Chinese migrants to outnumber local Tibetans and create a strong base to counter Indian influence across the border in Arunachal Pradesh. Mining would be an ideal excuse to attract thousands of Chinese migrants in the scarcely populated area to build a new Chinese town in the region. Such an atmosphere could facilitate a strong migrant Chinese support for PLA in the region.

Wu Yingjie, the Communist Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region greets border security forces during visit to the Yulmey Township, the border village on 12 October 2016.

The strategic plan is further evident from what Professor Zheng Youye of China University of Geosciences in Beijing told the SCMP. He said that the new mining activities would lead to a rapid and significant increase in the Chinese population in the Himalayas, which would provide stable, long-term support for any diplomatic or military operations aimed at gradually driving Indian forces out of territory claimed by China.The SCMP also writes that Chinese migrant workers have poured into the area so fast that even the local government officials could not provide a precise count for the current population

As per 2010 Chinese census, Lhuntse County has a population of 35248, with more than 99% being Tibetans. But the demography could quickly change as expansion of mining activities in the region would attract thousands of Chinese migrant workers, accompanied by cluster of Chinese shops, restaurants and night clubs. The area also has a heavy military presence whose numbers were not included in the local population census.

The gradual outnumbering of local population by migrant Chinese could also reduce the strong influence the Dalai Lama has in the region. The Tibetan peoples' deep faith in the Dalai Lama has created a very favorable attitude towards India as it is the current home for the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetans Administration.

Historical Importance for Tibetans
The Chinese could be also planning to change the demographic outlook of the place to reduce Tibetan cultural influence and wipe out historical memories. The place has been an important political and military base in different periods of Tibetan history.  The most recent was in the 1950s. On 17 March 1959, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee with his ministers from Lhasa as PLA threatened to bombard the Dalai Lama's palace.

The interim government of Tibet being proclaimed by the Dalai Lama at Lhuntse Dzong, Tibet in n 29 March 1959. Picture Courtesy Tibet Museum, CTA

On 29 March 1959, after reaching Lhuntze, the Dalai Lama declared it as the temporary seat for the Tibetan Government and nullified the forcefully signed 17th Point Agreement.

Lhuntse is also an important military base for Tibetan resistance guerrilla fighters, the Chushi Gangdruk as popularly known to Tibetans. The military organization fought the invading Chinese and successfully led the Dalai Lama to escape into India.

 Huayu Mine and its location
The mine site is located near Tashigang, about 45 km from the county headquarter or the Lhuntze town. An official website of the Chinese government states that the county is rich in gold, iron, medelevium, lead, zinc, antimony, copper etc. The Huayu Mining that owns the mine in Lhuntze proudly declares that its Zhexikang (Tashigang) mine has 600,000 tons of lead, zinc and antimony.
The mine is right next to the provincial highway S202, which makes transportation of mineral ores very convenient.
The S202 is an extremely important road for both civilian and military purpose in the region. The highway starts from Tsethang, the prefecture city of Lhoka, after passing through Lhuntze and Tsona, it ends close to the border opposite Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. The S202 is also connected with Shigatse and Lhasa with other provincial highways for faster movement of goods, people and military.

Environmental Implications
Huayu claims that the company has been honored by the local government for its work safety, but such honors lack any credibility in the region. For example, despite the 
Gyama (Ch: Jiama) Copper Gold Mine, (one of the largest active mines in Tibet) been awarded a similar honor, it saw the biggest, man-made mine tragedy in Tibetan history with death of 83 workers in a massive landslide in 2013.  

A report in TAR official website (September 1, 2017) states that the government has been able to reduce soil erosion and decrease desertification along the Lhuntze valley. But the Tashigang mine could cause soil erosion and water pollution as it sits right on the bank of Nangme Chu river, a tributary of Nyelchu river that flows through the Lhuntze valley. The river becomes Subansiri River as it enters into Arunachal Pradesh. Any water pollution by the mine could quickly flow into India as it happened back in November 2017 when Brahmuputra began to turn black for months due to (unconfirmed) activities on the Tibetan side of the border.

There is another big mine to the north of Lhuntze, the Norbusa Mine. Norbusa meaning 'Land of Gems' in Tibetan, is the biggest chromite mine in Tibet.

On 29 October 2017, Xi Jinping wrote (the much reported) letter to Dolkar and Yangzom sisters of remote Yulmey Township in Lhuntze. The presidential gesture, though made to look like meant for the two sisters, in fact was a message for India. It was a strategic move to illustrate people's love for the state and the government presence in the border region. Only Beijing would know if the sisters ever sent a letter to which the Chairman replied.

The letter to the family and now the sudden surge in mining activities in the region comes after an embarrassing end to the Doklam standoff for China. The unexpected tough resistance from India could have spurred China to seek new strategy - a demographic shift with Chinese characteristics on the Indo-Tibet border. Such a move could assist the PLA's expansion across the border with a fervent Chinese migrant support, which the Chinese military on the border obviously lacks.

*Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen is a Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A 1986 World Environment Day Message from the Dalai Lama

An Ethical Approach to Environmental Protection

Peace and the survival of life on earth as we know it are threatened by human activities which lack a commitment to humanitarian values. Destruction of nature and nature resources results from ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the earth’s living things. This lack of respect extends even to earth’s human descendants, the future generations who will inherit a vastly degraded planet if world peace does not become a reality, and destruction of the natural environment continues at the present rate. 

Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we now know is the case only if we care for it. It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past, which resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we re-examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations. Clearly this is a pivotal generation. Global communication is possible, yet confrontations take place more often than meaningful dialogues for peace. Our marvels of science and technology are matched if not outweighed by many current tragedies, including human starvation in some parts of the world, and extinction of other life forms. 

Exploration of outer space takes place at the same time as the earth’s own oceans, seas, and freshwater areas grow increasingly polluted, and their life forms are largely unknown or misunderstood. Many of the earth’s habitats, animals, plants, insects, and even micro-organisms that we know of as rare or endangered, may  not be known at all by future generations. We have the capacity, and the responsibility. We must act before it is too late.

This message from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet was issued on June 5, 1986 to mark the World Environment Day on the theme Peace and the Environment.

Source: Dalai Lama on Environment: Collected Statements 1987-2017, Published by Environment & Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute, India

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Real Cause behind Tibet's Garbage Crisis

                                                                                      * By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen

Twenty years ago, garbage was never a prevalent issue in Tibet. Domestic waste was ingeniously managed and processed into manure for farm use. But in recent years, the rampant littering on the Tibetan Plateau has become an obnoxious reality and a rapidly evolving crisis.

*The crisis
The waste crisis left an indelible impression on Tashi, whose 2016 visit to Tibet completely changed his childhood memory of the beautiful and garbage-free village that he grew up in. Frustrated, he lamented that Tibet is no longer the same, and there is garbage everywhere. Tashi also found that garbage had been dumped into the rivers due to the lack of basic waste-management facilities in rural areas.

The situation further presented itself as numerous writings and photos of the garbage began to emerge from Tibet. The photos highlighted construction leftovers, pilgrimage leftovers, tourist leftovers, festival leftovers and domestic dumping, contributing to the rampant littering on the mountains and in the rivers. The extent and severity of the problem has compelled different local communities in Tibet to look for solutions. Some environmental groups were formed to collect plastic waste from their surroundings.

Local communities in Nangchen collecting garbages left over on a roadside

Observing this rapidly evolving crisis, I was impelled to write an article titled " Garbage Rampage in Tibet"  in 2017, highlighting the urgent need of governance on basic waste management infrastructure and the importance of educating the general public about the health hazards of littering

The garbage situation was echoed in a recent article calledThe Litter Collecting Monk of Tibet,” by Feng Hao, a researcher at the China Dialogue website. Feng wrote how plastics were found in the stomachs of livestock died inexplicably.

*Garbage problems in other mountainous regions
Littering has been a serious problem in many mountainous regions. Even beautiful Bhutan is facing grave concerns from growing volume of garbage. The situation is utterly out of control in Nepal and many mountainous regions of northern India. The enormity of the garbage problem has made various efforts in these regions seem futile. According to a report by Science Advances (19 July 2017), humans have created 6,300 million tons of plastic waste as of 2015, and if the trend continues, there will be roughly 12,000 million tons of plastic waste in the natural environment by 2050.

With rapid urbanization and a massive influx of tourists in the region, Tibet stands at a critical junction in waste management. Unless the Chinese government takes a bold and effective course of action, the world's highest plateau could plunge into the same fate as other developing countries. There is a high possibility of the garbage problem quickly spiraling out of control.

*The primary causes
To address the impending crisis, a clear understanding of the factors that encourage littering is essential. Feng's article seems to insinuate that the local communities are the primary contributors to the garbage problem. Whereas, my 2017 article clearly cited three alternative primary factors that lie at the root of the problem: the lack of governance and basic infrastructure needs for waste management, the lack of public awareness programs to highlight the health hazards and environmental impact of garbage, and the lack of firm tourist regulations, which allows millions of tourists in Tibet to leave behind proportional volume of waste.

In our respective articles, Feng and I have tried to highlight a problem that could either explode out of control or could be tackled if the right measures are quickly taken. Upon careful analysis of the two articles, there are discernable parallels. Could it have been my article posted last summer that prompted Feng to travel to Tibet this summer to investigate the facts?
Local communities in Nangchen in Tibet load trucks with garbage collected from nearby mountains

Governance on Waste Management
The absolute absence of governance on waste management in rural areas in Tibet has compelled local communities to dump or burn their domestic waste. Even the garbage collected by Environmental Groups cleaning up nearby mountains ends up being burnt.  This is due to the states utter failure to provide very basic infrastructure to its citizens. Tsering Tsomo, who recently returned from a visit to Tibet, said there are simply no government waste-collection trucks in rural areas, and the problem is left to deteriorate.

Feng's article also highlights the absence of waste management in many parts of Tibet. Quoting Sangay, who founded the Ganjia Environmental Volunteers Association in 2013, he states that a little more money and labour from the government to build waste sorting points in villages would make greater impacts in rural areas.

Surprisingly, Feng tries to portray the governments inability to provide very basic waste management facilities as an ordinary issue. Quoting Peng Kui, a conservation expert with the Global Environmental Institute, Feng highlights that the lack of governance on waste management is not only restricted to rural areas, but also widely prevalent in cities and county-level towns.  He states that there is simply no spare funding for waste management in townships and villages.

This is absurd. China is the worlds second largest economy which continues to grow rapidly. The Chinese government has deployed hundreds of thousands of security personals across Tibet and funds the world most expensive network of roads, known as theBelt and Road Initiative.” Since the garbage problem in Tibet is in an early stage, only a fraction of that cost and manpower could fix it.

Feng's interest in the waste issue in Tibet is seemingly stimulated by my earlier article.  But much of his writing is presumably influenced by the tight surveillance he might have encountered while travelling in Tibet. Despite the apparent difficulty of investigating the real causes of the garbage problem in Tibet, such articles will likely alarm the Chinese government into action to protect Tibet from garbage inundation.
The vast Tibetan Plateau, standing at an average elevation of more than 4,000 meters above sea level, is not only the worlds highest plateau but is also the source of Asias largest rivers.  Any damage done to this majestic plateau will have catastrophic repercussions for Tibet, China and the world.
Currently there is a massive public effort underway in Tibet, but a feasible solution is not possible without strong government support.


Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen is an environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute

Artificial Rain on the Tibetan Plateau for More Water in China

                                                                                                                                 * By Dechen Palmo

By Dechen Palmo
Due to water scarcity in major Chinese cities, Chinese scientists are coming up with different techniques to acquire more water to satisfy their growing demand.

According to a recent news report published on 22 March, 2018 in South China Morning Post, "China needs more water. So it's building a rain-making network three times the size of Spain," China is testing a weather modification system developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The scientists have designed and constructed chambers using cutting-edge military rocket engine technology to develop this system. This is a cloud seeding method to bring more rain on the Tibetan plateau.

Tibet is the home of largest store of accessible freshwater outside the North Pole and South Pole, it is also the source of the six most important rivers of Asia. Since Tibet is self-sufficient in water, there is no need for the Tibetan plateau to induce such artificial rain-making system.  These burners are set up by Chinese on the Tibetan plateau to increase rainfall in order to feed the Drichu (Yangtze) and Machu (Yellow), which are the lifeline of Chinese people.

So far, according to the news, China has built over 500 burners on Tibetan mountains. Furthermore, they are planning to build tens of thousands of more such burners. Cloud-seeding is a method used by scientists to alter rainfall pattern. Water in clouds need to form into heavy droplets to precipitate. But often, the droplets in the clouds are just too small to precipitate. This technique involves an enormous network of fuel burning chambers which burn solid fuel to produce silver iodide, a cloud-seeding agent with a crystalline structure, much like that of an ice

Image: Snowy hydro

These chambers are installed high on the Tibetan mountain ridges facing the moist monsoon from South-Asia. As wind hits the mountains, it produces an upward draft and sweeps the particles into the cloud to induce rain and snowfall. This practice is not new and it is used in many countries. Even Beijing famously used it during the Olympics in 2008. But the matter to be concerned about is that the Chinese government is considering setting up what would be the world's largest cloud-seeding operation and keep these chambers operating in a near-vacuum conditions for months, or even years, without requiring maintenance on the Tibetan plateau.

Other cloud-seeding methods such as using planes, cannons and drones to blast silver iodide into the atmosphere won't have much environmental impact as the process of "blast" is for a short duration and induce rain only when it is required. But the type of chambers built on the Tibetan plateau that operate for months and years might have more impact over other methods. This cloud-seeding technique sounds good in theory, but the question is, does the technique work and what would be the long-term effects on the Tibetan plateau?

Whether cloud-seeding is a sustainable method is a controversial subject. A study in 2016 by the Wyoming Weather Modification Pilot Programme found that, although the technique can increase precipitation if wind and other conditions are ideal, it cannot do so reliably over a long period or on a large scale. Much of the literature on this substantiate that not only does cloud-seeding fail to achieve the desirable effect, it also could yield harmful consequences. Some of these consequences include rain suppression, flood, tornado and silver iodide toxicity.

In Australia, scientists consider three or five years to be the bare minimum period required to obtain a reliable data from the area of seeding trial.  However, Australia has stopped cloud-seeding due to environmental reasons.

The Tibetan plateau is very fragile and any weather modification could be fraught with unintended consequences. Before tens of thousands of chambers are to be built at select locations across the Tibetan plateau, the Chinese government should wait for at least three to five years to get reliable data from these 500 burners which have already been set up. They also should carry out a thorough scientific study of its use and conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before giving the green light to such project.

        *The author is an environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute

Tibet to Xinjiang Water Diversion Plan

                                                                                                                               *By Dechen Palmo
                                                                                                             Actual date February 14, 2018  

Fan Xiao 17.01.2018
The 2017 revival: Plans to divert a major river from Tibet to Xinjiang
The latest version of the plan is particularly mind-boggling.
It includes a 750-kilometre tunnel traversing the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, from the river’s Great Bend to Golmud; and a number of tributary tunnels to bring in water from the Parlung Tsangpo; the Nu and the Tongtian Rivers. It claims water will flow naturally towards Golmud, but the altitude at the start of the tunnel is less than 2,000 metres – and Golmud is at 2,700 metres. It is unclear how water will flow uphill.

The mountain valleys of south-western Tibet are prone to earthquakes and rock and mudslides. This is particularly the case at the Great Bend, where history records numerous strong earthquakes and landslides damning the river and causing flooding. The environmental and economic costs of such a huge project here are hard to imagine.

Rivers need a certain amount of water to supply their ecosystems and the needs of sustainable development for local societies – it is generally thought that no more than 30-40% of a river’s natural flow should be exploited. These schemes would see unreasonable quantities of water diverted from the rivers – 83.3% to 91.5% in the Shuotian Canal proposal. The more recent proposal does not give a specific figure, but says “most” or “all” water from the Source Rivers will be taken.
The rivers involved all flow across international borders. In 1972 the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment stated that: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”

The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development reaffirmed that principle and stressed that development, particularly joint development, is important. The architects of these plans show nothing but ignorance and arrogance regarding the concept of international rivers.

Both plans repeatedly use water shortages in northern China as a justification, but this is a mistake.
Some parts of the north are semi-humid, and even in some arid and semi-arid areas glacier melt creates fertile zones, such as the Hexi corridor and Xinjiang. Many water shortages are due to environmental damage, often arising from inappropriate human activity or misuse of water resources.
It is also the case that ecosystems form according to the resources available; demand arises according to supply. To increase supply to meet demand is a mistake. We cannot steal from one place to make up a shortage elsewhere, nor can we reallocate natural resources and change the natural environment at will. We will fail to achieve our goals and ultimately pay a huge price.
These schemes claim they will remake China and turn deserts into farmland. But the scientific foundation and the authors’ understanding of nature show they are using imagination in place of facts and fantasy in place of science. We must ask ourselves: Why do so many people seem to regard these schemes as feasible?

EDD analysis:
A detailed proposal to divert the Brahmaputra from Tibet into Xinjiang was posted online by Dr. Liu Yuanyuan. This proposal of water diversion is different from the earlier proposal of 1,000 km tunnel which was published in South China Morning Post last year.
But Fan Xia, chief engineer of the Sichuan geology and mineral bureau, has said that even if environmental and social costs are ignored, the construction and maintenance costs alone mean that this scheme is not feasible.

A planned diversion map of the Brahmaputra River toward Xinjiang
The proposal suggest the construction of 750 km tunnel to take water from the great bend of Yarlung Tsangpo (the Brahmaputra River) to Glomud in Amdo and from Golmud to Lop Nor of Xinjiang. This large tunnel will be subdivided and inclined shafts are inserted in the middle to build a side slope tunnel that vertically reaches long tunnel. This long tunnel has a total of seven entry points with an average gap of 90 kilometers per entry section. This seven tunnel will bring water from the Parlung Tsangpo (tributary of Brahmaputra River), Gyalmo Ngulchu (Salween River), Tongtian River (Dri chu), thereby channeling the water flow directly into the main tunnel.
To support this project, a series of big dams and big tunnels need to be built on the Tibetan Plateau, which is geologically unstable. There were a record number of earthquakes and landslide are common in the great bend and diverting the water from great bend, expert says, is not feasible.
Water shortages as the justification for this plans to divert the water from Brahmaputra to Xinjiang, and turning the Xinjiang into California, expert says, is not feasible. As we can see the impact of already completed eastern and central route of the South-North Water Transfer Project has led to mass relocation of hundreds of thousands of people and exacerbate water pollution problem. Therefore, this proposal of diverting Tibet’s river water to Xinjiang could lead to the social, economic and environmental catastrophic. Instead of diverting the water, Chinese government should encourage scientist and engineer to come up with more viable solution such as rainwater harvesting and recycle more waste water than water diversion.

Nomads of Kham Lhatok Forced to Make Way for Mining

                                                                                                                    *By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
                                                                                                                 Actual Date February 14, 2018

According to a Radio Free Asia report on 16 January 2018, the Chinese authorities in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture have forced about 400 to 500 nomadic families in Lhato for expansion of Yulung Copper Mine and warned locals not to go onto the newly fenced off area to collect caterpillar fungus. Caterpillar or Yartsagunbu as its known in Tibetan is possibility only real source of income for the Tibetans in the region.

The Yulong Copper Mine site is primarily located in the (Kham Lhatok) Jomda County of Chamdo Prefecture, eastern Tibet.  The vast mine site also extends to another county as part of Lhatok has been incorporated with Chamdo county. Yulong Copper Mine is reported to be the largest copper mine in China and the second largest mine in Asia. The mine has a proven deposit of 6.5 million tons of copper in ore form and another 10 million tons of prospective reserves. According to a report in the People’s Daily (2008), the company eventually hopes to expand the production capacity to 100,000 tons a year.

Yulong copper mine is predominantly owned by Zijin Mining Group and Western Mining, both of which are China’s major mining and development company. The Western Mining holds a 58 percent stake in the mine and a unit of Goldman Sachs owns just over 8 percent of Western Mining (Reuters 2008). Western Mining Co is China’s seventh-largest copper miner. According to a Bloomberg report, the Tibet Yulong Copper Joint Stock Limited owns and operates Yulong copper mine that contains copper reserves. As per the transaction announced on 9 August, 2007, Tibet Yulong Copper

Yulung Copper Mine Site 
Joint Stock Limited operates as a subsidiary of Western Mining Co. Ltd. The Tibet Yulong Copper Joint Stock Limited was founded in 2005 and is based in China. Despite the huge copper deposit, the mine has not been in full production due to lack of necessary infrastructure. According to a statement from the company, the operation of the mine has been delayed since the 1990s due to the remoteness of the place and its weak supporting infrastructures for the mining industry. But in recent years, the scale of both expansion and extraction of the mine has greatly increased as infrastructure in the region rapidly improves. Guoduo Hydropower Station, the second largest hydropower station in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region was built to provide power for the Yulong Copper Mine (Xinhua). Even the proposed Lhasa-Nyingtri-Chengdu railway line takes an unusual turn by making a long detour off the most direct route between its namesake cities to reach the Yulong mining site. The planned railway line, otherwise touches only important county towns and prefecture cities on its route but the track deliberately touches Yulong before it moves to Chamdo city.

There has been a welcome sign of increased concern for the environment ever since Xi Jinping came into power in China.  Chinese local officials in Tibet are trying to echo their President without any real commitment for environment conservation.  Grand proposalsa were declared to create nature reserves that devoid of any actual protection on the ground, instead thousands of nomads were forced to move out from their traditional homes.

According to a press conference held inBeijing (10 March 2017) on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress, Lobsang Gyaltsen, former chairman of Tibet and current Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet People’s Congress said that “No mining project have been approved throughout the period under two leaderships in Tibet.”   So what is happening in Chamdo could be summarized as a dual strategy – a strategy of not permitting new companies and shutting down insignificant polluting companies while allowing mega companies to both expand and increase production from the existing mine sites. Such a strategy would first help reduce further environmental destruction in the region to some extent and also will give the local government much needed claim of protecting the environment. Second, such a strategy would relieve prefecture governments’ fear of losing their bulk of income from mining.

Central Tibetan Administration needs to raise such issue of contradictions and also need to point out the lack of any benefit for the local Tibetan communities from the multi-billion worth of natural resources been extracted from Tibet.

                                      *The Author is an environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Black Brahmaputra: Looking at Possible Causes

Slag in Brahmaputra water. Photo credit: Times of India
The issue of Brahmaputra river pollution comes at a time of deteriorating ties between India and China. Following a tense border standoff between the two countries over the Doklam trijunction, there comes a news that China has stopped sharing hydrological data of the Brahmaputra River with India which China agreed to share. Before the situation is settled, the South China Morning Post published a report about the possible diversion of the Brahmaputra to Xinjiang through a 1000 km tunnel. This further increases misunderstanding between the two countries. Then came the more worrisome news of Brahmaputra River that rises in Tibet turning unnaturally black and murky for more than two months. With all these changes in the river, China is still silent or denying the factors affecting the international river. On the other hand, India is always afraid of China using the river as a strategic tool against itself.
With the unsettled disputes between India and China on Tibet-India border, the Brahmaputra River has also become one of the major sources of concern between the two countries.
The recent standoff between the two countries started with China's road-laying effort in the Doklam plateau and India's support for Bhutan which has sovereignty over the area and to halt China’s motorable road construction in the region. The dispute that began on 16 June 2017 and the standoff ended in August. Both sides gave contradictory statements for the border disengagement.
Meanwhile, during the confrontation, China stopped sharing hydrological data of the Brahmaputra River, which could have helped India to mitigate the impacts of this year’s flood in Assam. China shared data with Bangladesh while claiming the renovation work (data collection stations) as a reason for not giving data to India. The Doklam standoff between the two countries could be the reason for China's denial to share hydrological data with India.
The situation became tense when the news of water diversion to Xinjiang came up in the Chinese media. According to a report from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Chinese engineers were testing technologies that could be used to build the water-diversion tunnel. Though Beijing rejected these media reports as "false and untrue", but the water diversion news still continues to haunt India.
China's lack of transparency over the Brahmaputra River and India's suspicion of China using Brahmaputra water as a leverage against India will lead to further escalation of tensions between the two countries.
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu inspecting the polluted Siang water at Yingkiong. Photo credit: Pema khandu
With the water of the Brahmaputra River turning unusual muddy, people who live along the river basin believe that it has been caused by Chinese activities on the upper part of the river. Ninong Ering, a member of parliament of the Indian National Congress from Arunachal Pradesh, wrote to the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and raised concerns about the issue of the Brahmaputra River turning black, and requested the Prime Minister to take up the matter with the Chinese government. He further opined that the changes in water quality, which is unusual during the winter season, could be due to a possible diversion of the river in Tibet.
With the water sample collected on 27 November 2017, the East Siang Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department has found that the waters of the Brahmaputra River are high in iron content.  Bimal Welly, executive engineer, in a report states that Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU) of the Brahmaputra River is 425 NTU. Whereas, the permissible range is 0-5 NTU. The report further states that the NTU of the Brahmaputra River “is very high and if exposed for a long period of time, may affect aquatic lives.”
The source of this pollution could be natural or due to man-made factors. Some river pollutions occur naturally, originating from earthquakes, volcanoes, dust storms and forest and grassland fire. Human activities, such as construction, burning of fossil fuels, power plants and various industrial processes also generate a significant amount of particulates.
Railway construction in Nyingchi. Photo credit:

With so much of construction works going on in both India and Tibet, the contamination of water may have emanated from these construction sites. The surface water runoff and the groundwater close to any construction sites become polluted with the various material used in the construction work such as diesel, oil and other toxic material and cement. So some speculate that the reason could well be local construction of roads while other says that it might be from the Chinese construction of the Lhasa-Nyingtri railway line, extending its railway track all along the Yarlung Tsangpo.
According to Tage Rupa, a geomorphologist at Itanagar's Rajiv Gandhi University "Arunachal is seeing hectic construction, so maybe it's just that." She further added that "A lot of construction is close to the river, so it's possible it's just run-off from construction sites."
Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen, research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute states that "If the Brahmaputra River running black from the entry point of the river into India at the Indo-Tibet border as reported, then the source of the river pollution has to be from Tibet. If that is so, then there are a few possibilities as already reported, such as an earthquake or dam construction. But I think there is one more possibility that hasn't been raised yet, that is construction of railway tunnels or stations along the Yarlung Tsangpo or Brahmaputra River in Tibet, most probably construction of a huge railway station near Nyingtri city".
He further added "The Lhasa- Nyingtri section of the railway line crosses Yarlung Tsangpo 16 times, piercing through the mountains with 21 tunnels and 34 train stations. Nyingtri city is located close to the confluence of Yarlung Tsangpo and Nyang Tsangpo. Therefore any construction of a major railway station near the city could seriously muddy the river. With the lowering of river volume as well as fewer tourist traveling to the region during the winter, it's an ideal time for any major construction."
Meanwhile, responding to the report on the muddy Siang River (the Brahmaputra), The Global Times attributed a statement of Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of International Relations. He stated that “India should not point its finger at China on hydrological issues to incite anti-China sentiment, which cannot help repair the ties of the two countries.”
“This time India has made a mountain out of a molehill challenging China by citing slag. India should look for problems on their own side, otherwise, Sino-Indian ties can hardly improve”, he added.
There is not enough information yet to ascertain the reason behind such phenomena. Beijing's denial and silence on the issue creates an unhealthy misunderstanding between the two countries. If the source of pollution is from the Chinese side, then it would be bad for China’s reputation. It is Beijing's responsibility to protect the source of the river on which millions of people are dependent on for their livelihood. So it is pertinent for both the countries to find the source of the pollution and rectify it rather than arguing over who is causing the pollution.
Beijing's silence on the issue makes it difficult to find the actual source of the pollution and if the river remains polluted for a longer period it would affect the ecosystem, putting at risk the flora and fauna of the region as well as the health of human beings.
India can't ignore the fact that the water pollution from the source in Tibet could ruin the whole water system of the Brahmaputra River. So it is necessary for India to raise the issue with China and take a pragmatic approach towards preserving the sources of the major Asian rivers.
Beijing needs to improve its transparency over the shared river to fulfil the great Chinese dream of peaceful development and to be a responsible stakeholder in the international arena in the new era of China’s peaceful rise. This will further help China to enhance trust and reduce the risk of dangerous miscalculations.
* Dechen Palmo is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute,