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.