Saturday, 6 April 2019

China's 60 Years of Environmental Destruction in Tibet

China's latest white paper on Tibet, once again highlights Beijing's absolute lack of understanding of Tibet's History and its unwillingness to read beyond government documents.


Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
Environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute

The paper “Democratic Reform in Tibet – Sixty Years On,” was released on March 27, 2019 to mark the 60th year of Chinese occupation of the Tibetan plateau and suppression of Tibetan people.
With a blatant display of colonial arrogance, the paper includes a brief chapter on Tibet's ecology, it says: "In old Tibet, with an extremely underdeveloped economy, people could only adapt to the natural environment – they used whatever they could exploit from nature." This out-rightly undermines Tibet's glorious history and gives no credit for Tibetan people's environmental conservation efforts for thousands of years.

In fact, it was Tibetan people's belief in the sacredness of its natural environment coupled with their profound wisdom and skill to co-exist harmoniously with its surrounding environment that has helped in the conservation of the world's highest plateau until the Chinese occupation in 1959. According to a response to a  whitepaper on Tibet's ecology issued by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in December 2018, it states "Historically, Tibetans have protected and respected their environment and have not only successfully adapted to the ever-changing climatic conditions of the plateau but also prospered there as a powerful civilization".

Numerous scientific studies in recent years have affirmed the positive role of Tibetan people's cultural beliefs in the sacredness of important ecological sites in environmental conservation.

According to Tibetan historical records, environmental conservation efforts were carried out on a large scale as early as during the glorious Shang Shung period. The conservation efforts were further strengthened in the 7th century during the reign of King Songtsen Gompo, the 33rd emperor of Tibet. He issued edicts that reprimanded his subjects from harming and killing of animals.  The founder of the Phagmodrupa Dynasty in Tibet, Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen (1302-1364), enforced an ingenious policy of planting 200,000 trees annually and appointed a forest officer to protect the newly-planted trees. Similarly, successive rulers in Tibet such as the 5th Dalai Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama issued strict prohibitions on hunting and felling of trees at important ecological sites.

But as People's Liberation Army's (PLA) marched into Tibet from three separate Sino -Tibet border fronts in 1950s, Tibet begins to witness unprecedented scale of environmental destruction across the plateau. This paper will briefly focus on three environmental issues in Tibet to give a quick glimpse into 60 years of China's environmental destruction in Tibet.

1. Mass hunting during and after the Chinese invasion that led to sudden decrease in wild life

The Tibetan Plateau, with 2.5 million square kilometers of area, was perceived as 'one great zoological garden' by early explorers to the region. Some scientists have compared its known biodiversity to that of Amazon Rain forest.

The cultural way of life in Tibet, which was greatly influenced by both Bon and Buddhist traditions, strictly forbid general public from commercial hunting. Successive rulers in Tibet issued strict edicts to ban hunting at several ecological sites during various periods of its history. Prior to 1950s, there were innumerable accounts of Tibetan merchants and pilgrims travelling through vast grasslands of the northern plains, seeing large herds of wild animals.

But with the Chinese occupation, Tibet witnessed sudden disruption in its age old tradition of causing minimum harm to the natural environment and its wild life inhabitants. Many elderly Tibetans in exile have been eye-witness to People's Liberation Army (PLA) engaging in hunting practices employing machineguns to hunt herds of wild animals during the invasion. Some PLA soldiers stationed in Tibet after the occupation often use dynamite in rivers and lakes to instantly catch hundreds of fish, a practice that Chinese officials followed even in 1990s despite strong objection from local Tibetan communities.

 Chinese government authorities in Tibet issued license for commercial hunting of rare animals, and many officials engaged in hunting for leisure. Such government attitude encouraged large scale illegal poaching across Tibet in 1980s and early 1990s. Some emboldened poachers even killed Sonam Dhargay and other wild-life protection volunteers in the region.

2. Excessive deforestation in Tibet by state-logging enterprises causing massive floods

Until 1949, Tibet's the forest cover were one of the oldest reserves in all central Asia, predominantly found in eastern Amdo, south-eastern Kham and Kongpo region of southern Tibet. But the invasion of Tibet opened up the region to hungry Chinese state-logging enterprises. China has been one of the largest consumer of timber in the world, it inflicted unprecedented scale of deforestation across the region. Tibet's forest cover was reduced to 13.57 million hectares from 25.2 million hectares, about 46% reduction between 1950 and 1985, with an estimate market value (2000 market estimate) of US $ 54 billion. The horrifying scale of logging in some part of Tibet lead to the 1998 Yangtze flood and the 2010 Drukchu flood.

A. 1998 Yangtze Flood

The 1998 Yangtze Flood in China was one of the worst flood in 44 years at the time. As per China's official estimate, the flood killed more than 3000 people, displaced 15 million and affected 223 million people - almost one fifth of China's then population. A post disaster study by Chinese scientists put excessive logging in the Yangtze valley, particularly in the Tibetan areas as one of the primary cause of the massive flood.

Excessive deforestation in Tibet as a primary cause was also highlighted in the Final Report by United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) dated September 1998, the UN report stated that the primary causes of the disaster was excessive rainfall, melting of snow accumulated on the Tibet plateau and rampant deforestation around the river's fountains head in eastern Tibet.

Between 1949 and 1998, the forests of eastern Kham generated US $241 million in taxes and profits for the Chinese state-logging enterprises. The extensive and unsustainable industrial logging continued until the disastrous 1998 Yangtze flood, but large scale deforestation still continues in many parts of Kongpo. This might have led to some of recent floods and landslides in the region. Tree logging was a major employer in Tibet, for instance in the Kongpo region alone, over 20,000 Chinese soldiers and Tibetan prisoners were involved in tree felling and transport.

The Research and Markets (January 2019) reported that the consumption of timber in China increased by nearly 18% to 192.5 million cubic meters from 2013 to 2017.

B. 2010 Drukchu Flood

On 8 August, 2010, landslides and mud-rock flow brought about by heavy rains occurred in Drukchu area of Amdo in north-eastern Tibet. As per a Chinese official report, the mud-rock flow leveled an area of about 5 km long, 300 meters wide and 5 meters deep in the county seat with more than 2 million cubic meters of mud and rocks flowing down the valley. This severely damaged the power, telecommunication and water supply in the region. The mudslides destroyed more than 300 homes and damaged another 700.

Local Tibetans have blamed excessive logging along the river valley carried out by local Chinese authorities as part of a new policy issued in 2005 to clear the forest to exploit the Druchu River, thus setting up 156 hydropower stations along the river valley in the region.

A similar conclusion was also echoed in a publication (Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, AGU Publication 2014) which stated that the massive Drukchu landslide of August 2010 was caused by an extreme precipitation, magnified by the Wenchuan earthquake of May 2008, and the severe loss of vegetation cover in the Drukchu region.

3. River water Pollution from toxic mine waste

Systematic and large scale mining in Tibet began in the 1960s with the expansion of Chinese presence in Tibet. China began surveying for mineral deposits in Tibet from the very onset of its occupation. Much of China's infrastructure development in Tibet is aimed at speeding up of large- scale resource extraction in Tibet. The destructive and unethical methods of China’s mining practices has led to protests and disharmony across Tibet. Since 2009, there have been more than 30 known large-scale public protests against mining in Tibet as Chines mining companies continue to destroy grassland and pollute rivers.

A. Mingyak Lhagang water pollution

A lithium mining company called Ronda Lithium Co Ltd released toxic mine waste into a local river called  Lichu in Minyak Lhagang in eastern Tibet, causing serious water pollution and  mass death of fish. This brought hundreds of local Tibetans out on the street on May 4, 2016, protesting against the mining company. The local government informed the protestors that it had temporarily halted the mining activities, but locals Tibetans soon realized that the government has lied to them as continued operation at the mine were reported.   This was not the first time or an isolated case of river water pollution. In 2013, the same river had been polluted with lithium mine waste, causing death of aquatic animals and threatening local drinking water.

B. Dolkar Village Water pollution

In a similar case on September 23, 2014, in Dokar and Zibuk villages of Lhundrup County near Lhasa, the Tibet's capital city, more than 1,000 local Tibetans protested against the poisoning of their river by the Gyama Copper Poly-metallic mine. The mine is located close to a river that locals use for drinking water, irrigation and feeding animals. Predictably, local officials declared that the water pollution in the river was caused by natural factors and not by the mining company. But according to an article in 2010, it says “Environmental impact of mining activity on the surface water quality in Tibet: Gyama valley.”  Xiang, a Chinese scientist firmly stated that many mining and processing sites in the valley pose a great environmental concerns as the deposits contain large amount of heavy metals, such as lead, copper, zinc and manganese etc. Further stating that the deposits are prone to leak its contaminants through seepage water and erosion of particulates, and therefore posing a future risk for the local environment and a potential threat to the downstream water quality.

A local resident of the village told Radio Free Asia (September 2014),In the past, our rivers were crisp and clean, the mountains and valleys were known for their natural beauty. But now the rivers are polluted with poisonous waste from the mines". Clearly describing the rapid destruction of the local environment.


As China's white paper derides Tibetans for their inability to exploit the natural environment before the Chinese occupation, Tibetans are deeply hurt by Chinese government's lack of ethical wisdom by wreaking havoc on Tibet's natural environment.

China claims that they are spending millions in environmental conservation projects in recent years, but they have earned billions more from mining and other resource extraction activities in Tibet. For example, a 2019 Production and Operating outlook released by China Gold International, it states "Copper production from the Jiama Mine increased by 54% to 55,025 Tonne (approximately 121.3 million pounds) from 35,844 Tonne (approximately 79.0 million pounds) for the same period in 2017.  Gold produced was 70,262 ounces compared to 47,710 ounces for the same period in 2017."

The Chinese Geological Survey in 2007 estimated that the Tibetan Plateau holds about 30-40 million tons of copper reserves, 40 million tons of zinc, and several billion tons of iron. The proven reserve of more than 7.8 million tons of copper at the Yulong Copper Mine makes it the largest in China and the second largest in Asia.

While the Chinese state-owned companies continue to make billions from mining, damming, logging and tourism activities across Tibet, the scale of environmental destruction on the Tibetan plateau in the past 60 years have been unprecedented in its long history.

The World's Third Pole Is Melting

How can Asian countries survive without Tibetan glaciers and water?

Image Credit: Flickr / laika_ac

Dechen Palmo,
Environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute
The Tibetan plateau, which holds the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) ice sheet, is known as the world’s “Third Pole.” It holds the largest number of glaciers and snow after the Arctic and Antarctic. The Tibetan plateau has more than 46,000 glaciers, 14.5 percent of the world’s total. These glaciers give birth to Asia’s major river systems — the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow Rivers that provide lifelines to many countries and support a population of around 2 billion people.

But due to climate change, the Tibetan plateau’s glaciers are depleting faster than anywhere else on earth. The loss of Tibetan glaciers means the loss of livelihood for the people who are dependent on these rivers — over a quarter of the world’s total population.

Under the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), experts from different regions have come together to develop the first Hindu Kush Himalayan assessment report, which was released on January 5, 2019. The report corroborates a 2014 report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showing that as temperatures rise with climate change, at least one-third of the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers will be depleted by 2100, even if global warming is held at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This report has received much media attention due to its alarming scientific findings of glaciers melting on the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, which would, in turn, would impact the overall water, energy, and food security in the region.

Impact of Glacier Retreat on Water Resources

Glaciers on the Tibetan plateau play a key role in supplying perennial water for many countries. But there is a growing concern about the impact of glaciers melting on the Tibetan plateau and the availability of water in the region.

The Tibetan plateau has seen an increase in temperature of approximately 0.3 degrees C every 10 years. This means that over the past 50 years the temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees C, which is three times the global average. If this current trend continues, many Chinese scientists believe that 40 percent of the plateau’s glaciers could disappear by 2050. Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) also predict that temperature on the plateau will increase by up to 4.6 degrees C by the end of the century. Professor Liu Shiyin, who led a survey on these glaciers, said that retreating glaciers will release meltwater and create lakes, and ultimately it will lead to disaster.

As a unique and high plateau, the Tibetan plateau is highly sensitive and vulnerable to global climate change. In the past few years, the Tibetan plateau has seen a record number of floods, landslides, and mudslides as well as increases in lake volume in different parts of Tibet.

The impact of natural disasters on the Tibetan plateau is not only restricted to the plateau, but it has consequences far beyond it — for example, in a downstream country like India. The entirety of agriculture in northern India is highly dependent on rivers originating in Tibet and any changes in the flow of these rivers will have significant consequences. Then there are also extreme events such as glacier lake outburst floods (GLOF) that could pose an immense danger for many countries. In October 2018, debris blocked the flow of Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet, which threatened downstream India and Bangladesh with flooding.

The melting of glaciers will initially cause more floods in the region until they melt completely, providing more water in the short term. But in the long run, with depleted glacial ice, a runoff will be dramatically reduced. Many scientists predict that the quantity of runoff water from melting glaciers is likely to increase at least until 2050, and then it will decrease.

The Voice of America (VOA) quoted a former researcher of the Chinese Academy of Science who wanted to remain anonymous. In the interview, he said, “Diminished glacial runoff had already reduced water levels on the Yangtze and Yellow river.”

An average of 247 square kilometers of glacial ice has disappeared every year since the 1950s. Continued shrinking of glaciers will affect runoff and water resources downstream, then it will induce water scarcity.

Moreover, in addition to climate change, the unregulated construction of Chinese dams and canals might further exacerbate the impact of climate change and increase the problem of water scarcity. With China’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions by developing clean energy, China is likely to build more dams along transboundary rivers.

Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney writes: “China, by building increasing control over cross-border water resources through hydroengineering structures, is dragging its riparian neighbors into high-stakes games of geopolitical poker over water-related issues.” Hence, Tibet’s water resources have become an increasingly crucial strategic, political, and cultural element that the Chinese are intent on managing and controlling.

With a large proportion of the region’s population already living in poverty and dependent on natural resources for food and livelihood, limiting access to fresh water will push the entire region deeper into vulnerability.

Conflict and Water Scarcity

China has control over Tibet, “the Water Tower of Asia,” and thus the future of Asia’s water lies in China’s hands. China, a water scarce country due to uneven distribution of water resources, is facing considerable pressure on water resources to meet its own industrial growth, urbanization, and population growth.

China is expected to face a 25 percent supply gap on projected water demand by 2030, with two-thirds of its cities already facing difficulty in accessing water. In 2006, a World Bank working paper on water scarcity claimed that “China will soon become the most water-stressed country in East and Southeast Asia.”

Moreover, China is facing domestic water conflicts, mainly on issues like inter-jurisdictional water pollution and hydropower dam construction. These domestic water conflicts and water scarcity could provoke civil unrest. Therefore, these concerns might compel China to utilize transboundary rivers to meet its water scarcity challenge. The development of water infrastructure projects on Tibet’s transboundary rivers has already infuriated many downstream countries and triggered international criticism. For example, China’s construction of hydroelectric dams along the Brahmaputra River has become a source of friction between China and India. China has also dammed the upper Mekong River, which has become a major source of conflict between China and Southeast Asian countries.

There is no formal agreement between China and downstream countries over the use of shared river systems. By 2025, water scarcity is predicted to affect 1.8 billion people, particularly in Asia. Therefore, any alteration to the flow stemming from Tibet could have dire consequences for all. These reports add another concern and challenges to the region. As the volume of water decreases, the likelihood of conflicts between China and downstream countries is likely to increase. Chellaney predicted in 2014 that these rivers are destined to become “Asia’s new battleground.”

Many scholars and experts have warned about possible future “water wars” between China and India, and the same dynamics could play out in Southeast Asia. The key to mitigating transboundary water conflicts and advancing water cooperation in Asia is largely in the hands of China.

It is a time to recognize Tibet’s importance to regional security. The ICIMOD assessment report is one of many reports confirming the melting of glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, which could cause significant disruptions to future water scarcity. To effectively address the impacts of climate change on the Tibetan plateau and transboundary water conflict, there is a need for a regionally integrated approach to water resources management.

If unsustainable practices and mismanagement of water resources are not addressed, fresh water will become a precious commodity, the control of which could spark conflicts in Asia. Mistrust over shared rivers remains high between China and its neighbors. If China and the rest of the continent want to turn potential water conflict into constructive engagement, then a water dialogue is necessary.

Source: The aritcle orginally appeared on, Date - March 28, 2019

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

CTA issues Response to China’s White Paper on Tibet’s Environment

Dharamshala: The Central Tibetan Administration on Monday issued an official response to China’s White paper on Tibet’s environment entitled ‘Central Tibetan Administration’s Response to the People’s Republic of China’s White Paper on Tibet’s Ecology, 2018′.

At a press conference held at DIIR, Secretaries Sonam Norbu Dagpo and Tenzin Dhardon Sharling and Head of the Environment desk of  Tibet Policy Institute, Tempa Gyaltsen unveiled the official document.
“Environmental concerns are apolitical and universal in impact. The ecological health of the Tibetan Plateau which also functions as the roof of the world is vital for the well-being and sustainability of the entire world including China,” said Secretary Sonam Norbu.

Head of the Environment research desk of Tibet Policy Institute, Tempa Gyaltsen called out China on its failure to mitigate the alarming climatic conditions in Tibet and for further aggravating the environmental crises by increasing scale of resource extraction and dam construction across Tibet.

While he welcomed China’s past initiatives in environmental protection, including the introduction of the 2015 new Environment Protection Law, Researcher Tempa Gyaltsen said the recent policies pursued by the Chinese leadership are not reflected in the ground practices and implementation.

Further, he cited the increase in the building of mega dams, expansion of resource extractions, and suppression of peaceful environment-related protests as a sharp contradiction to the environmental law of 2015. “Cases of such contradictions and insincerity are numerous,” he said. 

The 21-page official response covers extensively on the impact of climate change on the Tibetan Plateau; Destructive mining, breach of environmental norm; Irresponsible damming: Mega dams destabilizing the fragile plateau and threatening millions of lives in Asia; Forceful removal of Tibetan nomads; Rampant littering with garbage treatment facilities provided only in cities; and Increasing natural disasters in Tibet.

“Since their occupation of Tibet, the Chinese authorities have imposed a destructive and irresponsible mode of development that ignores the actual social, environmental and economic needs of the Tibetan people. Their declaration of mining and tourism as pillar industries across Tibet clearly contradicts the claim of following a “sustainable path compatible with the harmonious co-existence of economy, society and ecological environment,” the official response said.

In order to effectively tackle the environmental issues in Tibet, CTA urged the Chinese government to put into practice the following recommendations:

1. Chinese government must respect and protect the rights of the Tibetan people’s cultural beliefs in the sanctity of the sacred mountains, lakes and rivers of the Tibetan Plateau.
2. The Chinese government must set firm, uncompromising and transparent license procedures for mining permits in Tibet based on competitive and reliable Environmental Impact Assessments and Social Impact Assessment reports.
3. The Chinese government must also strictly monitor and prohibit mining companies from dumping hazardous mine waste into the surrounding areas and rivers.
4. The Chinese government must also promptly address the poorly planned resettlement programs of Tibetan nomads. Having lost their traditional, self-reliant ways of life, the Chinese Government must provide the newly-resettled nomads with jobs, education, healthcare services and business opportunities to restore their dignity.
5. The Chinese government must involve the local Tibetan population in decision-making processes for any major development projects in Tibet.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Responding to the recent twin landslides in Jomda that blocked the Drichu/ Yangtze river in Tibet

Date - November 15, 2018

A  Five Point Call to Action on the twin landslide in Jomda and Palyul that blocked Drichu on October 11, 2018 and November 3, 2018.

1.     A thorough and transparent scientific investigation into the real cause or the factors that could have led to the two consecutive major landslides in the Bolu Township on Jomda and Palyul region of eastern Tibet must be carried out. Preventive measure should be put up in place to prevent any reoccurrence of such landslides in the region as well as other parts of Tibet.

2.     Hundreds of thousands people temporarily displaced due to damage to their homes should be given utmost support to, fully and quickly, recover from the tragedy and rebuilt their homes.

3.     A proper disaster response mechanism should be set up across Tibet to swiftly respond to any natural disasters, such action could minimize loss of life and damage to property

4.     A review on the mode of development activities across Tibet should be carried out to ascertain if excessive mining, construction of dams, roads and tunneling through mountains could have triggered any of the recent landslides and exacerbated negative impact of rising temperature on the plateau.

5.       We are extremely disappointed and surprised at the slow and weak response to the second landslide. The first heavy machine to remove earth from the landslide arrived on the site only on the 6th day of the tragedy, and took another 5 days to release water from the barrier lake as the scale of the landslide was utterly disproportionate to the scale of response the Chinese government put in.

By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen, Head of the Environment Desk of the Tibet Policy Institute, 

Monday, 17 September 2018


By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
July 31, 2018

The impact of climate change on the Tibetan plateau is apparent with unusual scale of torrential rainfall reported across Tibet. The drastic climatic shift has resulted in high frequency of floods and landslides occurring simultaneously in various part of Tibet as we write.

Figure 2: Flooded Summer Nomadic Pasture in Chungchu Dzong in Ngawa in South-East Amdo, Tibet

The scale and frequency of natural disasters in year 2018 has been as severe as it has been in the last two years. Waterlogged homes and flooded summer pastures in different parts of Amdo is a worrying sight and an alarming trend.  Following are the list of ongoing floods in Tibet:

  • July 10, 2018 – More than 19 townships, 101 villages and 9122 families were affected by floods in Drukchu Dzong (kanlho Prefecture, Gansu) in eastern Amdo due to heavy rainfall.
  • July 10, 2018 – Flood like situations continue in different parts of Central Tibet. Massive landslides in Ringpu Dzong blocked Highway 318, surging river in Sakya Dzong threatened the ancient Sakya monastery, and the Lhasa Kyichu has risen at a dangerous level.
  • July 11, 2018 – Landslides and mudslides in Powo Dzong blocked Chengdu-Lhasa highway.
  • July 12, 2018 – An unusual scene of water-logging were seen inside homes in Tongkor Dzong near Siling City due to heavy rainfall.
  • July 14, 2018 – A threat from surging river, due to heavy rainfall, is reported from Rabgya area of Machen County in Amdo.
  • July 14, 2018 – Monks from Zoige Taktsa Gompa and Muge Gompa were seen helping locals with rescue efforts during the floods in the region.
  • July 15, 2018 – Landslides were reported due to heavy rainfall in Zamthang Dzong in Ngawa region of Tibet.
  • July 15, 2018 – A brave Tibetan policeman rescued a local resident who was washed away by the surging Nyung River in Shigatze.
  • July 17, 2018 – Unusual (summer) heavy snowfall was reported in the Gormo region of northern Tibet.

Figure 1: Homes damaged by Floods in Ngawa in Amdo, Tibet

A rare case of floods over a vast area of a summer pasture site has put Tibetan nomads and their tents inundated in many regions of Ngawa in Amdo.
Ever since 2016, Tibet has seen unprecedented number of floods, landslides, and mudslides due to rising temperature and increasing rainfall. For the first time in 2016, a new trend of simultaneous landslides, mudslides and floods were reported from different parts of Amdo. The extent of natural disasters has been much more severe in the following year (2017) with massive floods in many parts of Kham.

The once cold and arid plateau is undergoing a massive climatic shift with warming rate of 0.3°C per decade, which is twice more than the global average. According to a scientific paper on the climatic shift in Tibet from 1961 -2015, published by a group of Chinese scientists (April 25, 2017), they have cited continuous rise in both temperature and precipitation for the last 50 years. The paper also stated that the years 1962-1985 and 1991-1998 were dry periods, while the years 1985-1991 and 1998-2000 were periods of more rainfall. The research was based on data from hundreds of meteorological stations spread across the plateau. The researchers found that places like Dartsedo, Nyarong, Lithang, Tsethang, Delingkha and Dulan experienced maximum increase in precipitation, while Sershul, Chigdril and Shigatze recorded the largest decrease in rainfall.

As per our understanding, a) climate change and rising temperature, b) rapid urbanization and excessive construction works, c) topographic features and location of towns and villages, d) poor construction materials or traditional homes not suitable for the new climatic reality, e) lack climate change awareness programs to adapt to the new climatic pattern and mitigate the impacts are the five primary causes of increasing natural disasters in Tibet. We have been focusing on these issues by highlighting the situation through talks, articles and short video films in hope of making the Chinese government aware of the dire situation and to take necessary measures to mitigate the impact. We also launched a six-minute video on the subject recently to assist Tibetans both in exile and in Tibet, to understand the causes of the increasing natural disasters in Tibet.

The change is inevitable, hence we have to adapt to the rapidly changing climatic pattern on the Tibetan Plateau and must take necessary measures to mitigate the impact of the new climatic reality. Beyond the numerous threats, the rising temperature and increased rainfall on the (once) arid plateau also has positive benefits that we must harness. An extensive tree plantation drive across Tibet is urgently needed to prevent further floods, landslides, desertification and rising temperature. Such initiative is ideal at the moment as the increased precipitation on the plateau will support growth of trees where previously not possible.

Thursday, 13 September 2018


By Dechen Palmo
July 31, 2018

According to a report published on 20 July, 2018 by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), in Bayen Dzong of Tsoshar, AmdoChinese authorities are forcefully implementing a river diversion project of Chakchu (also known as Drampa) river. The predominantly farming communities in Traseng, Dro, Gonpo Gyu, Achok and Adhey villages that are dependent on the river are concerned that such project would cause water scarcity resulting in poor yield and no adequate water supply for their livestock and overall bring negative impacts on the local environment. This water diversion project also causes a destruction of farmland by making a series of canal where local authorities have failed to compensate.

Since the local people do not know where and why the river has been diverted, it is speculated that the river is either being diverted towards the dominant Hui (Chinese Muslim) community or to other development projects such as mines or dams. Therefore, there is a possibility of continued protests or water disputes between Tibetan and Hui people. So to avoid such conflict, it is the responsibility of the Chinese government to provide information, engage in inter-jurisdictional cooperation and take local concern into consideration before implementing such project.

 Although, there is no reliable data on the number of inter-jurisdictional water disputes in this region, but the incidents seem to be continually increasing. On 1June 2017, a similar incident of water diversion happened in the very county where the Yitsa Zachu River flowing within the Shitsa village was diverted to Tharga Village, the resident of which are mostly Hui Muslim.  This led to clash between villagers and police, leaving 20 Tibetan and 10 police injured and arrest of more than 40 Tibetans.
Two Possible Reasons for the Diversion

(a) Domestic hydro-politics
Due to China’s unique combination of both centralized and decentralized political systems Chinese officials are often caught in institutional matrix known as tiao-kuai . This matrix is intended to ensure that sub-national officials pursue priorities set by the central government, but also to provide them with the flexibility to implement these policies according to local circumstances. Beijing effectively controls the issues of strategic importance, whereas less important matters are dealt by sub-national actors.
In practical terms, this flexibility result in different application of specific policies, including those concerning water resources. Since most of the key government and party position in this area are held by the dominant Hui population in Bayen Dzong, there is a possibility of unfair preferential practices of diverting the water flowing inside Tibetan villages to Hui villages.

(b) Qinghai Water Resources Management Plan (2008-2030)
As per the report published by TCHRD, the water diversion project in Bayen Dzong was linked with the Qinghai Water Resources Management Plan. If that is the case, such incidents compel us to ponder the question about the viability of such project. This kind of projects often lead to the land acquisition and resettlement, so it is necessary for local people to be aware of such possibilities

A brief on Qinghai Rural Water Resources Management Project

The Qinghai Rural Water Resources Management Project covers three State-identified poverty counties of Yadzi Dzong, Bayen Dzong and Chentsa Dzong. These three counties in Amdo province have agriculture as the major basic industry, but due to limited rainfall, agriculture relies mainly on the irrigation system. The present system relies on lift irrigation  through pumping stationsEither because of defection in the water-lifting system or overburdened electricity bills, farmers’ yield a very poor crop or significant parts of the irrigable land remain unirrigated despite abundant water resource in the Yellow River. In order to resolve the problem, the Lijiaxia and Gongboxia irrigation schemes have been included into the Qinghai Provincial 11 Five-Year Water Resources Project Portfolio as key water conservancy projects.

The Lijiaxia irrigation scheme lies on northern and southern banks of the Yellow River mainstream, which flows through the territories of Bayen Dzong and Chentsa Dzong in Amdo Porvince. The Gongboxia irrigation scheme is located on either bank of the Yellow River, which flows through the territories of Yadzi Dzong and Bayen Dzong. Both the schemes take advantage of the high storage water levels of the two existing dams (Lijiaxia and Gongboxia Reservoirs) and the diverted water from the south and north agricultural irrigation channels from the dam to provide water resources for the agricultural development in the region, converting current lift irrigation into gravity irrigation.

Percentage of Tibetan population under this project
The Gongboxia North Canal Irrigation Scheme will include a population of 32,615, consisting mainly of ethnic minorities (91.6%), including 12,878 Hui people (39.5%), 13,829 Salar people (42.4%), 3,145 Tibetans (9.6%) and 2,763 Han people (8.4%). The Lijiaxia North Canal Irrigation Scheme involves 42 administrative villages in the two towns and one administrative committee, and will include a population of 36,834, consisting mainly of Hui people (93.45%), in which Tibetans account for 5.98%.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018


By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
July 21, 2018

China’s latest white paper ‘Ecological Progress on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau’ begins with a brazen lie that “the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have always valued ecological progress.

In fact, the infamous slogan ‘Man must conquer nature’ was declared by the founding father of the CPC Mao Zedong. In his opening speech at the National Conference of the CPC (March 21, 1955), Mao stated that ‘there is a way of conquering even Nature as an enemy”. He further stated that “even the high mountains must bow, and even the rivers must yield”. Such attitude towards nature by CPC and its call to develop at all cost has plunged China into as one of the most polluted regions on earth.

Too Many Lies and Factual Errors                                                                                                
The paper would have been a wonderful reading for someone who knows very little about Tibet, but for a regular observer, there are too many lies and factual errors. The paper states that ‘the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is one of the regions with strictest water resource management and water environment protection in China’.  There were too many cases of factories and mining companies who were not punished despite polluting local water bodies.
The case of waste from lithium mines been flushed into the Lichu river in Minyak Lhagong ( Karze region of Tibet) by the Ronda Lithium Co Limited  is one such example. The toxic waste caused (May 4, 2016) mass death of fish and polluted the drinking water source of the local communities.
In a similar case on September 23, 2014, more than 1,000 local Tibetans of Dokar and Zibuk villages near Lhasa protested against the poisoning of their river by the Gyama Copper Poly-metallic mine. The mine is located close to a river that locals use for drinking, irrigation and feeding their livestock.
Another example of lack of proper water management is the rampant dumping of rural and urban wastes into nearby rivers. The paper states that RMB 6.3 billion was spent on domestic sewage and waste disposal projects but in reality, the garbage collection and management facilities are almost non-existent across Tibet, especially in rural areas.
While claiming that the Qinghai – Tibet railway was an example of green development, the paper quotes from Science Magazine (April 27, 2007) saying (the railway will) “ultimately promote the sustainable ecological, social, and economic development of western China”. But according to the actual article in the Science Magazine titled ‘Building a Green Railway in China’, the sentence begins by stating that ” If carefully managed (emphasis added), the Qinghai -Tibet railway will ultimately promote the sustainable ecological, social and economic development of the western China’. To support its argument, the paper disregards intellectual integrity by selectively misquoting incomplete sentences from Science Magazine to alter the actual context.

Contradictions between Policies and Implementations
There are far too many contradictions between policies for environmental protection and actual ground implementation. The paper claims that ‘the relevant provinces and autonomous regions have taken active measure to increase public awareness of eco-conservation, such as strengthening public campaigns on environmental protection’.
But an official circular issued by the Tibet Public Security Department of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region on February 7, 2018 has made environmental protection activities in Tibet an illegal act, thereby contradicting the claims made above.
The disregard to the pleas of Tibetans in Amchok against mining is yet another contradiction.  On May 31, 2016, around 2,000 local Tibetans of Amchok in north-eastern Tibet gathered to protest agaist mining on their sacred mount Gong-nyong Lari. But the Chinese government brutally suppressed the protesters by seriously injuring many and detaining six local Tibetans. They were calling for “protection of environment, protection of the sacred mountain and protection of people’s safety”.

Some Important Issues are Ignored
The paper makes no mention of natural disasters despite Tibetan areas facing devastating floods, landslides and mudslides in recent years.
The mountainous Tibetan Plateau faces the severest impact of climate change due to its high elevation at low latitude. The situation is further exacerbated by unregulated constructions and mining activities in the region. The plateau has seen unprecedented number of natural disaster across Tibet since 2016. There are numerous floods and landslides occurring in North-eastern and Central regions of Tibet as we write. Unfortunately, the paper does not mention these natural disasters or efforts taken by the Chinese government to mitigate the impact.
This is apparently due to lack of real understanding of the current socio-environmental situation in Tibet by the Chinese government.  The Chinese government has done very little to address climate change and put forth any preventive measures to mitigate the impact of increasing incidents natural disasters. As is often the case, it has been the Tibetan monasteries who have rushed to the scene of natural disasters to help the public.
While claiming massive progress in the creation of nature reserves, the plight of millions of resettled nomads are conveniently brushed aside. The lack of jobs and educational opportunities in the resettled areas have pushed the nomadic population into the margins of the society where they are compelled into alcoholism, prostitution and children engaging in petty crimes. A whole generation of Tibetans are impoverished and forced into destitution.
The paper also gives very little information about Ngawa and Karze regions of eastern Tibet. These regions have seen increasing natural disasters, numerous protests against mining and often face repressive policies.

Environmental conservation efforts in Tibetan areas are arrogantly forced upon them by the state without informing or taking local communities into confidence. Such colonial approaches have often led to confrontation between the people and the government. It’s the Tibetans who have preserved the fragile plateau for thousands of years and acquired enormous indigenous knowledge of the land and its climatic patterns.
The lack of mitigation efforts to face the new environmental situation and climatic conditions is a major failure. Tibetans should not be left to face natural disaster in the coming years as it has been in the last three years.
The formulation of stricter regulations on protection of nature reserves is a welcome effort, a similar policy is also urgently required to strictly regulate the influx of millions of tourists into the plateau as it could leave massive carbon footprint on the fragile ecosystem of Tibet.
The millions of resettled nomads should be provided with jobs, education and medical facilities to restore their dignity and livelihood.
Ever since Xi Jinping became the president, there has been positive efforts on environmental protection across China and in Tibet. But the lack of environmental knowledge, respect for environment and sincere desire for environmental protection among Chinese officials have led to various contradictions and confrontations. As a result, environmental conservation projects by various local Chinese governments in Tibet often end up further damaging the local environment and destroying people’s livelihood.