Friday, 4 May 2018

The Real Cause behind Tibet's Garbage Crisis

                                                                                      * By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen

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

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

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

Local communities in Nangchen collecting garbages left over on a roadside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Artificial Rain on the Tibetan Plateau for More Water in China

                                                                                                                                 * By Dechen Palmo

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

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

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

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

Image: Snowy hydro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibet to Xinjiang Water Diversion Plan

                                                                                                                               *By Dechen Palmo
                                                                                                             Actual date February 14, 2018  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nomads of Kham Lhatok Forced to Make Way for Mining

                                                                                                                    *By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
                                                                                                                 Actual Date February 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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