Friday, 14 July 2017

Dalai Lama on Environment

On the 82nd birthday occasion (July 6, 2017) of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Environment  and Development Desk (EDD) of the Tibet Policy Institute brought out an updated 6th edition of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's speeches on the importance of environment protection titled 'Dalai Lama on Environment,' a collected statements from 1987 till June 2017.

The book highlights the consistent effort by His Holiness on environment protection and makes His Holiness's speech on environment protection for the last 30 years available to the world.
The EDD dedicates the book to millions of people across the world striving for a greener, healthier and more sustainable future for our planet.
Following are few extracts from the book:

The three main commitments of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama are promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony, preservation of Tibet's spiritual heritage and protection of its environment.
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 natural 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 itྲ

-His Holiness message for World Environment Day, June 5, 1986

I often joke that the moon and stars look beautiful, but if any of us tried to live on them we would be miserable. This blue planet of ours is a delightful habitat. Its life is our life; its future our future. Indeed, the earth acts like a mother to us all. Like children, we are dependent on her. In the fact of such global problems as the greenhouse effect and depletion of the ozone layer, individual organizations and single nations are helpless. Unless we all work together, no solution can be found. Our mother earth is teaching us a lesson in universal responsibility.
-His Holiness address to Parliamentary Earth Summit,
Global Forum of the UN Conference on the Environment and
Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil June 7, 1992

'This blue planet is our only home and Tibet is its roof. The Tibetan Plateau needs to be protected, not just for Tibetans but for the health and sustainability of the entire world'
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama's message for the
COP21-UN climate Summit in Paris, 2015

"Human beings are social animals and heavily interdepended. Climate change threatens us all. It's one of those natural challenges that teach us that we must work together, making a common effort to reach a common goal. A more peaceful world and a more peaceful century require that we rely not on weapons but developing a widespread inner peace."

-His Holiness keynote address at the commencement ceremony for the
Class of 2017, University of California San Diego, US. June 17, 2017

Friday, 7 July 2017

Pika: a misunderstood victim of grassland degradation

*By Jamyang Dolma

Humans emerged as the most dominant species in the world, influencing both the survival and extinction of many species.
Modern civilization with development in many aspects has made people more educated, civilized and ironically more ruthless. We hunt wild animal for their skins, organs, and worst kill them for being pest.
Unfortunately, pika (abra in tibetan ) , small and furry wild animal, scurrying on the Tibetan plateau was the target of a large scale eradication since 1962, as pikas were considered pest causing immense damage to the local ecosystem.
Extensive research on the role of pika on the rangeland of the Tibetan plateau has given rise to two contradictory result:  while some consider them as a keystone species of Tibet's rangeland, others blame them as a factor for declining alpine meadow condition. Finding the actual role of pika on Tibet's rangeland might be too late and the species could soon be in the threatened red list of the international union for conservation of nature (IUCN).
Human footprint is the main cause of Tibetan plateau degrading rangeland. As George Schaller stated in his book, Tibet wild, "pika are not the cause of degraded grassland but the indicator of the overgrazed and degraded land".
Mass poisoning of pika began in 1962 as a pest competing with livestock for forage and causing soil erosion but grassland degradation still occurring, so who should be blamed next?
As Andrew Smith and J. Marc Foggin (1999) wrote in their paper, Instead of spending huge resources on killing them, pika should be considered as an alternative method to save Tibet's rangelands. Pikas are considered keystone species with immense benefit to the rangeland ecosystem in Tibet.
Such as:
·         Pika burrow are used by different type of birds as breeding ground
·         Pika faeces provide nutrient to the soil
·         Pika help in loosening the soil layer making it more suitable for water storage
·         Pika help in prevention of soil erosion
·         they are the food sources for many predators like foxes, wolves, snow leopards and brown bears  (keeping pikas population in control)
·         More importantly, pikas feeds on herbs and other poisonous plant species harmful and unpalatable to livestock.
The extermination of pika population has been justified for their presence on a degraded land and their competition with livestock for food. The antipathy towards pika from local community primarily arises from pika burrowing habitat which deface surface area and cause accident when travelling through such places.  The above reason found to be true to some extend as food scarcity make pika forage on plants preferred by livestock. The mass eradication of pika because of their home location seems very brutal and unfair. The alpine rangeland problems are, in fact, caused by unsustainable use of land by humans without proper and realistic measures. The Chinese government should solve such problem with logical solution instead of blaming pika.
The extermination of pika in 1962 was done by using pesticide sodium fluoroacetate (compound 1080), which is toxic to both human and animals.  Later in the mid-1980s, it was replaced with toxin botulinum type C which affect animals only and kill them by effecting their neuron system. Both toxin are targeted for the pika and other pests in the region, however it has also affect livestock and other wild animal passing through the affected area.
The world would be a sad place, if the once freely roaming, small furry animal largely mistaken for rodent are to be completely exterminated from the alpine rangeland.  Everything in this world has both good and bad sides to it. pika might be harmful to the rangeland of Tibet on the bases of their habitat, competition  with livestock for food but their positive effects on Tibet's rangeland are far greater than their negative impacts  on the complex ecosystem of Tibet.
In conclusion, pike should be used for restoring the degrading rangeland instead of blaming them for current situation.

 *Jamyang Dolma is an intern at the Environment & Development Desk of the Tibet Policy Institute

Monday, 26 June 2017

China’s Ploy in the Riparian Countries

*By Dechen Palmo

China, a country known for its smoggy sky and hazardous environmental conditions, has become a prospective global leader on climate change. The environment is already a massive and potentially explosive issue in China and there is a huge domestic pressure on framing and implementation of better environmental policies. With Premier Li Keqiang's pledge during the National People's Congress on March 2017, to "Make the sky blue again,” China understands its severe environmental problems and the need to find a solution as soon as possible. 
The Zangmu Hydropower Dam

China's 13th five-year plan for energy development, covering the period from 2016 to 2020, was officially published in early January, 2017. It outlines a strategy to reduce reliance on coal and to achieve minimum share of 15 percent of non-fossil energy sources. Specific targets include an additional 60GW of hydropower. China having dammed most of its rivers are now looking to explore Tibetan rivers as potential sources of energy. 
The Tibetan Plateau has the largest reserve of fresh water outside the two poles, making it a source of major international rivers running across Asia. China, now in a position of control over these water resources, makes the riparian countries more dependent on incoming water from Tibet. 
Moreover, China voted against the UN Convention on The Law of Non-Navigational Use of International Watercourses which was adopted in 1997. It is not bound by the law and this gives Beijing an opportunity to use the water without hindrance. And China is using this power by engaging in dam-building and river diversion plans and other activities along international rivers without consultation with the riparian states.
It is justified that many of the South Asian countries have not ratified the UN convention as China (upstream) is not a member of the convention with whom they are dependent for water.

Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) is one such river that is causing friction amongst all three recipient countries, especially between India and China. The Zangmu Dam, the largest dam on Yarlung Tsangpo is the cause of serious concern to the downstream countries. Although China’s claim that the dam built on Yarlung Tsangpo wouldn’t impact the flow of the river but the general public who are directly dependent on the river have serious doubts about China’s intention. But the government of India is assuaged by China assurance that the dam built on Yarlung Tsangpo isn't intended to regulate water. 
On January 2013, China's State Council gave a go-ahead for three more hydropower dams on Yarlung Tsangpo, which are Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu in Lhoka in south Tibet. Beside this, China has planned to construct seven more dams on the mainstream of Yarlung Tsangpo. When will the downstream countries raise this issue with China is still an unanswered question. Will it be after the completion of damming the river?
With China isn't having any water sharing agreement with India and Bangladesh, it is not bound to any treaty and doesn't need to consider the concerns of downstream countries.
In recent years the idea is floated that the hydropower is a source of clean energy.
However this idea falls within the realms of debate. The claim that hydropower is a source of clean energy is being used by Beijing to push dam building projects in the region.
Damming of rivers might seem to some as a source of clean energy, while to others is damaging to the ecology. More ominously experts are aware that many of these dams being built are located in highly seismic prone area.  In an event of an earthquake, ineffective water management and deforestation in this region make the region vulnerable to flood or drought. These dams can wreak havoc accidentally or can be used to choreograph such incident in times of conflict and war. 
A dam breach in May 2000 in Tibet led to a massive flood in Arunachal Pradesh and it caused an extensive loss of life and destruction of key infrastructure. The Indian government accused the Beijing counterpart for not sharing vital and timely information about the water level of the Brahmaputra which triggered a flood to Arunachal Pradesh.  This necessitated the 2002 agreement, in which China agreed to supply river flow data to India during the flood season.  But China refused to talk about its proposed dam building plan. So to avoid any political disputes with India, China shows its cooperative face for a short term when pressure arose and when pressure abates, China returns to its actual plan. 
Moreover the flood remains a concern for the downstream countries and may worsen in the long run with the continued melting of Tibetan glacier as a result of global warming. Yao Tandong, a leading Chinese glaciologist, reports that the glaciers on the Tibetan plateau are now melting at an accelerating rate. He believes that the two thirds of these glaciers could be gone by 2060 if the melting continues at the same rate.
The Yarlung Tsangpo has its water source from these glaciers. If the glaciers continue to retreat at such rate then in future there will be a severe water crisis in Asia.
China continues with dam building on international rivers without consulting downstream countries. When the riparian countries voice their concerns, China always maintains consistency in its response to such accusations, which is invariably a complete denial, and then a promise to consult. After this China continue its dam building activities regardless.
In 2010, there was widespread drought in Southeast Asia because of China's construction of hydropower dam on the upper reaches of the Mekong which originates from Tibet. This drought compelled many of the Southeast Asia to lodge their collective and strong protest to Beijing.
In order to prevent India and Bangladesh from lodging any strong protest, China announced its construction of the Zangmu hydropower station. Beijing also explained that the construction of this dam on Brahmaputra would not reduce its volume of water to the downstream countries.  
Until now, India and Bangladesh have been reactive rather than proactive to show their concern about China upstream dam building. A tripartite agreement between them is imperative. It is therefore time for the governments of India and Bangladesh to come together and start initiating talks before it is too late. 
*The author is an environment research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Garbage Rampage in Tibet

*By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen

Why rampant littering on the world's highest Plateau concerns us all

Tibet, once the mystical Shangri-La to the western world, is still one of the most beautiful places and sought after destination for travelers. As per a Xinhua (Jan 3, 2017) News report, a whopping 23 million tourist flocked to the plateau in the year 2016 alone.

But the question is: Is Tibet ready to accommodate such massive number of tourists? 

The so called Tibet Autonomous Region (2017/01/03) says, it’s all set to welcome 25 million tourist this year and 30 million by 2020, ensuring an increase of 1.5 million tourists every year. To realize the 2020 target, the Chinese government has been making huge investments in infrastructural set-up: building roads, railways, airports and cities in the Tibetan areas. With increased access to Tibet, the government is able to mint, billions in tourism revenue.

But the Chinese government has conveniently neglected the imperativeness of the very basic measures and mechanisms needed to cope with increasing human activities in the fragile ecology. That is, garbage management and garbage treatment facilities.  The massive number of visitors to the region leaves behind proportional volume of garbage. The lack of institutional measures and adept governance in waste management has encouraged rampant littering on the mountains and massive waste dumping in the rivers.

Local Tibetan voluntary groups collect waste from mountains sides
Declaring more and more nature reserves or proposing to declare whole of Tibet into a National Park is absurd without providing the very basic infrastructure to deal with the everyday waste.

"Tibet is no longer the same, there are garbage everywhere". Said Tashi who has returned from a recent visit to his home in Karze region (an eastern Tibetan region incorporated into Sichuan Province of China ).  With a sense of frustration, he further added that "the rivers are flooded with garbage and there are no waste management facilities provided by the Chinese government in the rural areas".
The frustration over rampant littering fueled by Government’s apathy is no longer an isolated case in Karze region but is pertinent across Tibet. This is reflected in the numerous local conservation effort of the local Tibetans in recent years.

On 24th of the same month, a management group for sacred mountain Tsari in Nyingtri region of the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ made an appeal to the visitors not to litter on the holy mountain.
Until two decades, garbage was never an issue in Tibet. Domestic wastes were ingeniously managed and processed into manures for use in the farms.

But now with global warming and rising temperatures on the roof of the world, increasing human activities and abundance of food products packaged in plastics, the plateau is inundated with unregulated garbage disposal by tourists, pilgrims and construction workers. The traditional ways of waste management no longer remain a viable solution.

Such formidable scenarios, demands a forward-looking leadership to provide the necessary infrastructure, redressal mechanisms and sustainable measures. But the leadership in Beijing has utterly failed on two fronts in surmounting the pressing challenges:

1.      Failed to make general public aware of the health hazards and the environmental impact of garbage.
2.      Failed to meet the governance and basic infrastructure needs for waste management.

Much of the government investment is concentrated in few selected tourist centers and cities housing government officials. As soon as one travels outer-skirt of towns and cities, littering is rampant and governance on waste management almost non-existent. Such situation has compelled the local communities to step up efforts: voluntary environmental groups are formed and tasked to collect truckloads of garbage from surrounding mountains infested with wastes. In the absence of infrastructural provisions to deal with the garbage, the locals take recourse to burning the wastes, thus unintentionally causing greater environmental hazards.

With an area of 2.5 million km2 and at an average elevation of more than 4000 meters above sea level, Tibet is the largest and highest plateau on earth. The plateau is not only home to world's highest mountains, storing 46,000 glaciers (third largest store of ice on earth beyond north and south pole) but it's also the head-source of Asia's largest rivers, such as Brahmaputra, Indus, Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong and Salween. Supporting more than 1.3 billion people in the eleven (Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China) downstream nations.  Any damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau would have adverse global repercussions.

Millions of tourists flocking to Tibet are predominantly Chinese, rushing to escape from the toxic smog that engulf much of China. Should the current trend of rampant littering continue in Tibet, the 30 million tourists expected to touchdown in Tibet would be contributing substantially to garbage dumping crisis, thus tragically turning the world's highest plateau into a yet another toxic Chinese province. 

In a bid to avert an impending threat facing the roof of the world, the Chinese government must take prudent measures to address the lapses and ensure that any future investment in the region would result in creating a healthy and sustainable environment; - an environment that millions of tourists and generations of Tibetans could continue to enjoy.

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

Friday, 2 June 2017

Why is China Planning to turn whole of the Tibetan Plateau into a Park?

*Tenzin Palden

According to a recent report by the South China Morning Post (April 22, 2017), the Chinese government is planning to turn whole of the Tibetan Plateau into a mega national park.

National parks are created to preserve ecology as well as its cultural heritage. China's plan of converting whole of the Tibetan Plateau into a national park is an arduous task, but not impossible since many areas in Tibet have been already declared national parks, such as, the Qinghai Golmud Kunlun Mountain National Park, Jomolangma National Park, Namtso Nyenchen tanglha National Park, Guge National Park and many more.

The Chinese government designates a particular site as national park aiming for ecological sustainability. Provincial and local governments are given responsibilities to operate national parks with no further direction. However, local governments do not have sufficient funds for construction and operation of national park and hence it encourages private sectors to engage in initial infrastructure development and permitting them to operate park for a time period. Private sectors profit from the ticket sales for park entry and other recreational activities in the park. They develop sites within the national park at scenic spots by building hotels, resorts and restaurants. This defeats the objectives to preserve nature and to protect biodiversity and its ecosystem.

Chinese scholars and environmentalists have often critiqued the concept of national park and many argue whether they are for conservation or are aimed at commercialisation. China has followed the United States' method of monitoring its national park without understanding the unified system of governance in United States against the fragmented and often overlapping environmental governance in China.

China's plan of national parks in some of the areas in mainland China encouraged large number of tourists, but a severe loss in biodiversity and its plan to convert Tibetan Plateau into "The Last Piece of Pure Earth" can be considered as the first call to bring tourism to the whole of Tibet. China gained such confidence from success in tourism industry in certain Tibetan cities (Lhasa, Nyingtri and Gyalthang). China's need to construct huge area of national park in recent times is mainly because of emerging middle class with growing interests in outdoor recreational activities and this demand for public recreational sites and hugely profitable tourism sector attract state to build more number of national parks. The impact of tourism is evident in Lhasa where the majority of tourists are Chinese and they have their plans tailored to benefit Chinese businesses providing accommodation and food.

China's plan of converting the whole of Tibet to a national park not necessarily mean a positive effort towards nature conservation. On August 2013, there were reports of mining on a sacred mountain in Zatoe region of north-eastern Tibet. The area is under the jurisdiction of Sangjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. The local Tibetans of Zatoe County protested against the mining company but were violently suppressed by Chinese armed forces. In the year 2003, Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, (head source of three rivers) was declared as a national-level nature reserve.  Nature reserves are highly protected areas where development projects like mining and tourism are strictly prohibited, and national parks are built keeping in mind the economic and social development. When local authorities mismanage a national-level reserve for their economic benefit as evident in Zatoe, there is a clear picture of what Tibet will turn into once it is designated as the third pole national park.

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

Monday, 21 November 2016


*Dechen Palmo

China’s control over “blue gold” wealth on Tibetan plateau has armed China with tremendous leverage and made them a potential water power in a way Saudi Arabia is an oil power.[1]

Moreover, the country which has the largest number of dams in the world with two -third of it located on Tibetan plateau, is still in the process of developing more dams to satiate its industrial sector’s growing power demand. As of now, China has more than 87,000 dams and in the last decade the country has installed more hydropower capacity than the rest of the world combined.[2] This means that China continues to play a leading role in global hydropower development.

Furthermore, Chinese companies and Chinese banks now fund largest dam projects in the world. By August 2012, Chinese companies and banks were involved in almost 308 dam projects in 70 different countries.[3] As of now, Chinese state-owned Sinohydro Corporation is the largest hydropower company in the world and the China Export-Import Bank (China Exim Bank) has emerged as the biggest funder of large dams.

China is developing at what cost?

On the ongoing debate over the ecological impact of large dams, Mark Tercek, CEO of Nature Conservancy said: “Environmentalists generally hate dams, even though they’re clean energy.”[4]
Unfortunately, the dams are not “Clean Energy” as Tercek has described. In fact, dams are one of the major factors causing Climate change.

According to Ivan Lima and other experts from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), world’s large dams emit 104 million metric tonnes of methane annually, which implies that methane emission from dams are responsible for at least 4% of total global warming caused by human activities.[5]

Taking into consideration the case of Mekong river, Chinese officials claim that the dam which were built on the upper reaches of Mekong river would have a positive environmental impact. They assert that during the wet season, the dam will help control flood and river bank soil erosion and above all provide clean energy. Conversely, releasing water during summer will help ease water shortage during the dry season.[6]
A river can be dammed in environmentally considerate manner. But what China is doing is over-damming of rivers. However, they fail to acknowledge that hydropower development alters the hydrology of the river by forcing variation in water flow such as reducing and delaying wet season flow and increasing dry season flow. This affects the ecosystem and livelihood of people who are dependent on the natural flow of rivers. Also these water fluctuations are made considering the rise and fall in electricity demand.

Moreover, controlling the flow of flood water has another adverse effect. The seasonal flooding is key to productive farms and health of fisheries as the floodwater inundates land with valuable nutrients and sediments. These nutrients stimulate the food web and enrich the soil and thereby promoting farming and fisheries. However with the damming on the Mekong river, it has created a huge net loss to the people dependent on the river for livelihood.

Furthermore, the dams built on the upper reaches of the Mekong river are located on highly seismic area. Although, Chinese regulations stipulate that dams are designed to withstand seismic activity. In case, big dams built on the upper reaches of the Mekong River fail due to natural catastrophe, it will create a “domino effect”, triggering a cascading sequel collapse of dams further downstream.
A 2012 Probe International report noted that “98.6% of all of these dams, and 99.7% of western China’s electricity generating capacity will be located in zones with a moderate to very high level of seismic hazard”.[7]

Adrian Moon, a geologist who has been monitoring earthquake activity on the Tibetan plateau, southeast Tibet and west of Sichuan since 2009 contends that “In an area like South-Eastern Tibet, with such complex geology and fault lines, just because nothing’s happened in the past doesn’t mean nothing will happen in the future,”[8]

China has turned a blind eye to the warnings and continues its frenetic dam building on the plateau including six large hydropower dams on the Lancang(Mekong) river and The Rumei (or Rongmei in Tibetan) hydropower project, which once completed will be the second highest in the world at  315 meters.

More dams in Tibetan plateau and other part of the world.

In March this year, China set out its development plan for the next five years. According to its 13th Five Year Plan, China has successfully taken over European Union in clean energy investment in last five years and they further intend to dominate clean technology market both at home and abroad for the next five years.[9]

So, the question arises, will hydropower be considered as clean energy as described in the 13th Five Year Plan?

If so, then there will be further escalation in dam building on the Tibetan plateau and other parts of the world.

The impacts of China’s dams on the Lower Riparian Countries

China’s control over Tibet brings a special privilege of being the upper riparian country of most of Asia’s major rivers, Beijing is using this vantage point in the game of water diplomacy.

Since late 2015, countries along the Lancang-Mekong river have suffered from severe drought and Chinese government blame it on El Nino phenomenon as they always turn their blame away from its dams.

So, in order to show their leverage over riparian countries, China announced the release of emergency water supply from Jinghong Hydropower Station from May 15 till April 10, 2016 to help overcome drought in Mekong Delta. From this we can observe that Beijing had already highlighted its dominance over the Mekong river and the downstream countries are dependent on China’s good will and charity of this life sustaining resources.[10]

Likewise, Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney had also describes how China could use its leverage to deter downstream countries from challenging its broader regional interests, citing that “smaller downstream countries in Southeast and Central Asia now use only coded language to express their concerns over Chinese dam building. For example, calling for transparency has become a way of referring obliquely to China, which smaller states are wary of mentioning by name.”[11]

One of the most recent example of arm twisting by China using its vantage point as an upper riparian country is the stalled multi-billion dollar Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy River backed by China. Once completed, China will import 90% of the electricity generated leaving hardly any profit to the people of Myanmar despite the fact that Myanmar suffer daily power shortages.

With the new government in power, the decision of resuming project rests with the senior leadership, particularly Aung San Suu Kyi. If she decides to resume the project, it would seriously tarnish her claim of moral and political leadership and may even prompt protests in the country.

China continues to put pressure on Myanmar giving them three options regarding the future of the dam.

According to China, Myanmar can cancel the dam project and be liable to pay $800 million in compensation or resume work on the project and earn $500 million a year in revenue when it is completed, or do nothing and pay $50 million in interest for as long as it remains suspended.[12]

Moreover, most of Myanmar’s rivers have its source on the Tibetan plateau and China may use this as a tool to pressurize the new government. Beijing, with its diplomatic and economic clout, has put National League for Democracy (NLD) government in deep dilemma. On one hand, they have their own people who protest against the dam project and on the other, they have the Chinese government pressurizing them to resume the dam project.

In addition, neighboring countries like India and Nepal are concerned over  increased natural disaster in Tibet such as glacial avalanche, mud flood, landslide, dammed river bursting and earthquake.

When asked about the flooding from Tibet, officials from Central Water Commission of India says that they have concerns about flooding from Tibet too but they’re focused on dams building on Tibetan rivers “If waters from them are released in a larger quantity, they may become floods and if we have no storage in the Indian portion, that may create havoc,” the commission’s chairman Ghanashyam Jha told the BBC.[13]

Considering the impact of China’s dam building spree on the Tibetan plateau and in the neighboring countries, this article is an attempt to highlight the importance of the need for South Asian countries to come together to seek sustainable ecological and cost effective solutions instead of continuing dam building through collaborative efforts.

There is no right without responsibility, so China to represent as a responsible Asian power and upstream state on international river, has a duty to allow independent, comprehensive and expert assessment of  risks involved in the extension of dam project in and around Tibet. Findings of the experts should be made available to the affected people and the countries downstream must be given due consideration and acted upon by the Chinese government.


[1] Brahma Chellaney, “Water: Asia’s new battleground”, HarperCollins publisher,2011:p99
[3]H.Jeremy &Mongabay,10 Dec.2012,China funding construction of 308 dams in 70 countries,
[4]Mark Tercek who is CEO of The Nature Conservancy, May 12 New Yorker
[5] Ivan B.T. Lima et al. (2007) “Methane Emissions from Large Dams as Renewable Energy Resources: A Developing Nation Perspective,” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, published on-line March 2007.
[6] Jory Hecht and Guillaume Lacombe “the effects of hydropower dams on the hydrology of the Mekong basin” April 2014.state of knowledge journal.
[7]J. John, April 2012. earthquake hazard and large dams in western China, a probe international study ,
[8] Yunnan Chen, February 28, 2014, Dam building in Tibet increasing earthquake risks,
[9]  M.g.Shinwei ng & G.Jonathan, briefing paper, march 2016, pulling ahead on clean technology: China’s 13th five year plan challenges Europe’s low carbon competitiveness.
[10] China releasing water to draught stricken Mekong river countries , Xinhua,15th March 2016,

[11] Brahma Chellaney: China’s dam boom stokes concerns in Asia, Nikke Asia Review, 16 March, 2016.
[12] M.A Sithu, Frontier.26th June 2016.The Myitsone dam: China’s three option. 2016.
[13] K.S.Navin, 8th Sept.2016, BBC world service. India and Nepal concern over Tibet flood advice gap,.


*Dechen Palmo is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Natural Disasters in Tibet: Is it the New Normal?

*By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen

World’s highest plateau witness three different natural disasters in a month
A 600 million cubic meters of glacial slide onto the Aru summer pasture of Ruthok County on 17 July 2016, killing nine people, burying more than 110 yaks and 350 sheep. Ruthok is one of the seven counties of Ngari prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Regions (TAR), located in the north-western edge of Tibet, bordering Xinjiang in the north and Ladakh (India) in the west.
Far away from Ruthok, in the north-eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, mud floods and landslides killed two Tibetans and injured more than 30 people on the 9th day of the same month. The unusual mud flood also killed dozens of wild animals and livestock in the four counties of Tsolho Tibetan Autonomous prefecture of Qinghai Province.
Around the same time, a rare drought hit Chumarleb and Matoe counties (water source of Asia’s major rivers like Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong), leaving behind a dried river bed with hundreds of dead fishes. Ironically, local residents had to drink from lakes and muddy rivers despite Tibet being the ‘Water Tower of Asia’.
Figure1 : Mud flood in Tsolho where dozens of wild animals washed away in the mud
A glacial avalanche, mud floods and a drought within the month of July is a natural disaster too many too quickly. Local Tibetans are worried of the new trend of frequent natural disasters. A trend which might be, unfortunately, becoming the ‘New Normal in Tibet’.
Now, what is the cause behind the increasing number of natural disasters in Tibet in recent months or years?
“Climate change and human development are jeopardizing the plateau’s fragile environment” writes Jane Qui (Double threat for Tibet,Nature, August 19, 2014), precisely answering the causes behind the worrying natural trend.
Tibet is the world’s largest and highest plateau; from where earth’s majestic peaks rise in to the sky and mighty rivers gush through most of Asia, feeding billion plus lives in the riparian states and influencing the weather patterns as far as Europe. But with the temperature rise twice more than the global average, the plateau’s 46000 glaciers are rapidly melting and the streams are quickly drying up.
Despite the Tibetan Plateau facing the severest impact from climate change, there is an absolute lack of public education and awareness program on how to mitigate and adapt to the climate change. Much of China’s environment related policies framed in recent years are aimed at solving urban coastal pollution problems rather than protecting the fragile ethnic regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.
The local residents of Tsolho blamed the recent mud-flood in the region to excessive mining and tunneling of the mountains. The impact of climate change has been exacerbated by the increasing scale of resource extractions and dam constructions in the Tibetan areas. Mining has become the biggest concern for both the land and people of Tibet, causing landslide, grassland degradation and water pollution. According to the Environment & Development Desk of the Tibet Policy Institute, there has been more than 30 known environment related protests in Tibet since 2009.
The dire implication of excessive mining in Tibet has been echoed by Chinese scientist as well.  Jane Qui citing a report from Chinese Academy of Science that the “Tibetan mines produced 100 million tonnes of wastewater in 2007 and 18.8 million tonnes of solid waste in 2009. Because most of the mines are open pits and have limited environmental oversight, air, water and soil pollution is particularly serious.”
A similar horrendous scenario was reported in the (2009) Tibet Handbook, the author of the travel guide writes that “the hills around Chumarleb have heavily eroded by the itinerant 70,000 or 80,000 Chinese gold miners who come here during the summer months. The lawlessness of these prospectors is encouraged by the paucity of the police force assigned to monitor them,” a firsthand account.  This is the same site where a recent drought has been reported and desertification is a serious issue.
Despite a clear warning of increasing natural disasters in Tibet such as landslides, torrential floods and snow disasters in an Environment Assessment Report (2015) published by the Institute of Tibetan Plateau, the Chinese government continue to expand and expedite mining and damming in Tibet.
Thus increasing the likelihood of more natural disasters as well as exacerbating the impact of any natural disaster. The flood in Tashigang township of Lhatse County (August 3, 2016) in central Tibet is one of the most recent disasters.  Fortunately, it was a breach of river embankment and not a dam burst as hurriedly reported by Xinhua news.

Figure 2: Tsenmo Hydropower Dam in Rebkong county of Qinghai Province. Locals are worried that heavy rain or earth quake could breaches the dam and wash away thousands of homes located down the valley
Nevertheless, rising river levels due to increasing rainfall and fast melting of glaciers could burst dams and cause catastrophic disasters to Tibet, China and Asia. Tibet is home to probably the largest number of dams in the world and Chinese government has been investing heavily on building mega dams.  The Suwalong hydropower project on the Yangtze River with a design capacity of 1.2 gigawatts is in the latest list of mega dams on this seismically active plateau.
A sudden rise in temperature and increase in natural disasters has been strongly felt by the local Tibetans in recent years. But the lack of information and infrastructure to mitigate the impact and adapt to the new pattern of global weather system has left Tibetans unprepared and unprotected.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government continue to build railways and dams to accelerate the exploitation of more than 3,000 proven mineral reserves found in Tibet.

*The author is an environment research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute