Environmental Devastation in Tibet
The Tibetan Plateau is the largest and highest plateau
in the world. It sustains a unique, yet fragile high altitude eco-system
much of which remains unspoiled due to its remoteness and inaccessibility.
However, human impact is now taking an unprecedented and devastating toll
on the natural resources - the wildlife, forests, grazing lands, rivers
and mineral resources are now at a point where they may never recover.
Pre-1950 travelers in Tibet compared it to East Africa,
so vast were the herds of large mammals. Today, the herds are all but
vanished, wiped out mainly by Chinese soldiers shooting automatic weapons
from trucks in the 1960s. Poaching by Tibetans and Chinese continues,
threatening the survival of some species. One Tibetan nomad told Dr. George
Schaller, the foremost Western specialist on Tibetan mammals, "If the
officials obey the law and stop hunting, we will too."
Forests in Tibet are the third largest in China's present
day borders and government lumber operations are cutting at an unprecedented
rate. Reforestation is neglected and ineffective, leaving hillsides vulnerable
to erosion. Rapid and widespread deforestation has life-threatening consequences
for the hundreds of millions who live in the flood plains of the major
rivers of Southeast Asia, many of which have their headwaters in Tibet.
Clear-cutting also threatens the habitat of Tibet's other residents -
the rare giant panda, golden monkey, and over 5,000 plant species unique
to the planet.
The northern Tibetan Plateau was home to China's "Los
Alamos," - its primary nuclear weapons research and development plant,
and nuclear weapons were first stationed in northern Tibet in 1972. Today
there are at least 3 or 4 nuclear missile launch sites in Tibet housing
an unknown number of warheads. Nuclear waste from the research facility
is feared to be dumped on the nearby plains where Tibetan nomads allege
they have suffered illness and death from
strange diseases consistent with radiation sickness. ICT's ground-breaking
report Nuclear Tibet, addresses this troublesome area.
Government-encouraged population migration into the northern
Tibetan plateau, now under control of Qinghai Province, has caused massive
and irreparable environmental damage to huge tracts of fragile tableland.
Experts attribute the deterioration to overgrazing, irrational land reclamation,
and wanton denudation of surface vegetation.
Large-scale agricultural development projects are now
being carried out in Tibet which are disrupting traditional practices
and the ecological balance maintained by farmers for centuries. Motivated
by the need to feed the growing Chinese population in Tibet and reduce
the costly wheat imports, the projects may ultimately harm Tibetans more
than help them. One of the projects, which is funded by the United Nations
World Food Program , employs hundreds of Chinese and few Tibetans and
is opposed by local Tibetans, ICT and other Tibetan organizations.
Natural Resource Extraction
The extraction of minerals and wood from Tibetan regions
is largely done by, or at the direction of, newly arrived Chinese workers
and administrators. Some meager benefit may accrue to local Tibetans,
but more often than not, the land is left despoiled and traditional Tibetan
livelihoods disrupted. Moreover, roads built to access uncut forests or
untapped minerals usually result in an increase in local Chinese government
administrators who may then assume more control over the local monastery,
probably leading to greater restrictions on religious freedom. Implementation
of family planning
policies m y also increase, which could involve coercive
Hydro-electric Construction Projects
China has plans to build dozens of hydro-electric dams
on Tibet's rivers and export the electricity to Chinese cities such as
Chengdu, Xining, Lanzhou and Xian. The most heated environmental issue
in Tibet may be a hydro-electric construction project on Yamdrok Tso,
a sacred lake between Lhasa and Shigatse. A correspondent for The Independent
wrote, "environmentalists fear this giant project will create one of China'sworst
ecological disasters of the 21st century."
Courtesy of International Canpaign for Tibet. For more
information contact them at www.savetibet.org