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.

Thursday, 5 July 2018


*By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
According to a recent Xinhua news (19 June 2018), the so called Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR) removed around 1100 villagers (nomads) from the Changtang National Nature Reserve in Nagchu region and were relocated at an area of 27 kilometers from Lhasa. The Deputy Head of the Regional Forestry Bureau of TAR cited low oxygen, poor public facilities, lower than the region’s average life expectancy and the need for reduction of human activities that might harm the fragile environment in the nature reserve.

The above news seem like any other news from China in which the state making great efforts in modernizing and improving rural lives and environment. But for a researcher, an unusual element of excessive reporting about the nature reserve by various Chinese news media in the last one year could be clearly noticed. Which finally culminating into the removal of Tibetan nomads from their ancestral homes in recent days.

There are three distinct characters subtly and consistently displayed in the Chinese news reports about the nature reserves;
  1. Government news outlets consistently and excessively reporting on the nature reserve and the relocation,
  2. Terming 1100 nomads as villagers and deliberately using certain terms to describe the local socio-environmental conditions.
  3. The news trying to create a positive narrative about the nature reserve and nomads’ relocation to counter exile narrative.

Beijing has deliberately and systematically released selected news about the conditions of the nature reserve and the nomads living in the vicinity of the reserve. Following are few examples of the systematic over-reporting on the same issue.
  • On 6 May 2017, Xinhua reported that China banned visitors from passing through Changtang National Nature Reserve (CNNR). The circular warned tourists, adventurers and tour agencies to comply with the reserve’s laws and regulations.
  • On 13 July 2017, China Daily reported that the State Council has announced 17 new national nature reserves across China, including in Tibetan areas. Proclaiming that the nature reserves are an important vehicle to promote ecological protection and enhance and protect China’s stunning natural scenery.
  • On 2 May 2018, People’s Daily announced that the Qinghai provincial government revoked 59 mining licenses both within and peripheral of nature reserves in the province.
  • On 6 June 2018, China Tibet Online reported that the Qinghai province also has banned travel in various national nature reserves in the province.
  • On 17 June 2018, Xinhua reported that the government has started dismantling pasture fences in Nyima county of Nagchu, which is part of the CNNR. Stating that with relocation of the local residents to Lhasa, the fences were no longer necessary.
  • On 20 June 2018, Xinhua reported that relocation of nomads has changed lives for better.

First, the Chinese government clearly understands the importance of presenting a narrative in which the removal of Tibetan nomads from the nature reserves are made to seem like necessary and urgent, on both social and environmentally accounts. For such a narrative to emerge, Beijing tasked its news outlets to report about the nature reserve and the nomad relocations before any foreign media or exile Tibetans could. Thus becoming the source of the information which shapes the public perception and influences the direction of the story.

Second, reports were guided by careful and clever usage of terms. For example 1100 nomads were deliberately termed as villagers in the Chinese news reports. Usage of such term greatly changes the meaning and magnitude of the event. Relocation of nomads have been more controversial than relocation of villagers. Relocation of nomads brought abrupt change to their way of life where as relocated villagers often continue the same profession of life. Relocations of villagers have been for betterment of the villagers whereas the relocation of nomads were for resource extractions or creation of nature reserves.

Third, the Chinese government tries to present itself as Champion of environmental conservation by constant release of selected news about improvements in the nature reserve, increase in wildlife population, declaration of more nature reserves and firmer enforcement of nature reserve regulations. Simultaneously, the Chinese government also tried to portray Tibetan nomadic life in the area as harsh, poor, unhealthy and backward. Trying to create such a narrative in which the readers are made to believe that the relocation of the nomads a necessary step for betterment of their life.
The Changtang National Nature Reserve covers six counties of the Nagchu with an area of 298,000 square km and has an average altitude of 5,000 meters. It was established in 1993 as a regional nature reserve and was upgraded to a national nature reserve in year 2000. This makes it the biggest and highest nature reserve within People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Nomads were initially given options to move out or stay back, hoping that subsidies and incentives would attract most of them to the new locations. But due to numerous instances of not implementing promises and the poor conditions of resettled nomads, the residents of Changtang grassland were not lured by the false promises of schools, hospitals, homes and jobs. With fewer than expected nomads willing to move out, the Chinese local governments started making lives on the grassland difficult by introducing new laws and threatening to imprison those refusing to comply. Therefore either by force or by tricks, the nomads were compelled to move out into new locations with very little opportunity to thrive a progressive life.

A strong call for better treatment of the resettled nomads are both urgent and necessary. The social, economic and educational conditions of the resettled nomads are in extreme conditions. Lack of jobs and business opportunities have forced man into alcoholism, women into prostitution, and children into petty crimes. A whole generation of Tibetan nomads are forced into absolute desperation.

The extreme conditions of millions of resettled nomads need to be highlighted at various global stages, and the Chinese government must be questioned on the implementation of promises of homes, hospitals, schools and jobs.

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

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