Tibet's Environment & Development
February 24, 2006, Vol. 4, No. 1
Guest Editor Taryn Firkser
of Past Issues
Inchoate smoke signals from both
sides of the Himalayas
By Tashi Tsering*
In the last few weeks, people in Tibetan villages and communities
across the Tibetan Plateau and diaspora have been making bonfires
of their clothing decorated with endangered species' skins and other
animal products. The reported quantities of burnt skins -- inflated
accounts estimated in the millions of dollars -- must raise the
eyebrows of people who are not familiar with contemporary Tibetan
dress culture, especially clothing worn during festivals in the
Amdo and Kham regions (now incorporated into the provinces of Qinghai,
Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu). Even Tibetans in exile are surprised
at the apparent extent of their people's involvement in the consumption
of (and trade in) endangered animal products.
This sudden mass rejection of the use of animals’ skins on
their traditional garments came in response to the Dalai Lama's
repeated calls at a religious gathering -- January 2006 Amravati
Kalachakra Teachings -- attended by a roughly estimated 100,000
Tibetans including 10,000 from Tibet. Various Tibetan groups engaged
in environmental education campaigns in Amravati, especially targeting
pilgrims from Tibet. However, it is wrong to assume that Tibetans
in Tibet were not aware of the plight of these endangered animals
before the Kalachakra. Many religious and environmental leaders
in Kham and Amdo areas and even a rock band from Lhasa have been
involved in educating their followers about endangered species issues
for at least the last two years. However, the current wave of mass
burning of animal skins was unexpected, and now the Chinese government,
which use to support grassroots environmental initiatives around
these issues earlier, has restricted Tibetan environmental efforts.
The bonfire campaigns certainly have symbolic significance, their
strategic sensibility and implications are becoming increasingly
Both the Tibetan involvement in the international trade in endangered
species products and the campaigns to curb this situation, unfortunately,
have been increasingly politicized by interest groups
and the media. Much of the impetus in this campaign in exile was
actually sparked by certain scathing remarks by the Indian parliamentarian
and animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi, on an Indian TV news
channel in November 2005. Maneka Gandhi essentially alleged that
all Tibetans are poachers and that India should throw them out of
the country. Similarly, international media attention was aroused
by the Wildlife Protection Society of India and the London-based
Environmental Investigation Agency at a press conference in September
2005, by providing shallow research findings with striking images
of Tibetans exotically sporting large quantities of animal skins
on their traditional dresses. Such hyped up stereotyping could have disastrous
consequences for the politically vulnerable Tibetans who are sandwiched
between the whims of India and China, especially now that common
Tibetans have come out of the closet with their illegal animal products.
Quite predictably, in this blame game, Tibetans and supporters
have accused the Chinese government of being the main culprit. They
point to the fact that the Chinese government allows and encourages
these practices for political and commercial reasons, as evidenced
popular Chinese media's depiction of the Tibetan people as an economically
rich yet exotic people fond of showing off wild animals' skins.
What purpose this blame game serves is quite unclear, but it is
obvious that the limited Tibetan involvement is only a part of a
much larger international syndicate that supplies animal body parts,
such as bones and organs for their presumed healing qualities in
traditional Chinese medicine. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have
been prompt in
their response: banning communal bonfires of animal skins, withdrawing
support for local environmental efforts, especially around endangered
species issues and arresting activists involved in the campaign
on charges of being politically influenced by the "Dalai clique."
Both China and India are signatories to international covenants
such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Flora and Fauna and the Biodiversity Convention. In addition
to international legal obligation to take action, the two countries
now have an opportunity to develop bilateral ties by collaborating
with the Tibetans to save many animals from extinction, especially
the Bengal tiger and Tibetan antelope. China must first release
the arrested activists and the two governments must openly welcome
and support the Tibetan people's efforts to abandon the use of endangered
species products. The two governments should provide support in
the form of environmental education resources and help channel the
current energy in Tibetan communities towards taking action against
the poachers and smugglers who are the key culprits.
The various individuals and groups that are responsible for this
uncoordinated campaign have far more work to do now. Please do not
call these bonfires an "accomplished campaign" just yet.
The real fire of this campaign must burn in people's minds in the
form of knowledge and appreciation for nature's biological diversity.
This fire should be sustained through public education programs
in schools, monasteries and homes. Merely sending smoke signals
of Tibetan national solidarity to
the Dalai Lama--without substantive environmental education or a
political goal--will only make the situation more precarious.
[*Tashi Tsering is the editor of Trin-Gyi-Pho-Nya]
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|Nortel wins China pipeline contract
By Carole Samdup*
PetroChina, the state owned operators of China's controversial
West-East Gas Pipeline have chosen Nortel Networks to supply communications,
both wired and wireless, along its 4,200-kilometre route. The pipeline
is the longest in China, spanning nine provinces, and will transport
natural gas from the rich Lunnan gas fields of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous
Region all the way to the economic hub of Shanghai and other regions
of the Yangtze River Delta.
In September 2001, BP announced that it would pull out of the West-East
pipeline project following an international campaign spearheaded
by non-governmental organizations concerned about potential negative
impacts on human rights and environmental protection.
China's leaders have since staked their credibility on successful
completion of the pipeline. It has become a central component of
the much-touted "Go West" initiative, introduced by President
Jiang Zemin in 1999 as a way to lift China's western provinces out
of poverty by pumping billions of dollars into the region, mostly
for large infrastructure projects. Observers, however, claim that
China’s “Go West:” strategy is more about political
control than about development.
"This pipeline is being built more for political reasons than
for economic reasons," said Dinakar Sethuraman, an analyst
with World Gas Intelligence in Singapore. "Its prospects for
profit are cloudy."
Nortel has a long involvement in China and has played a key role
in its technological advancement. Nortel maintains a significant
research and development centre in Guangdong and a joint research
project with Tsinghua University in Beijing. In recent years, Nortel
has been winning critical infrastructure network supply contracts
such as the US $10 million project to build a citywide fibre-optic
broadband network in Shanghai and more recently with China's railway
networks including the highly controversial Golmud-Lhasa railway.
Nortel now appears poised to provide key communications capacity
to Chinese utilities such as water management facilities and energy
providers - oil and gas as well as electricity.
Human rights advocates have long claimed that Nortel’s communications
technology facilitates the expansion of China’s vast architecture
of surveillance, which includes speech and face recognition, closed-circuit
television, smart cards, credit records, and Internet surveillance
technologies – all used by authorities to control the flow
of information and to curb the activities of democracy and human
rights activists (see “China’s Golden Shield: Corporations
and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People’s
Republic of China” at www.dd-rd.ca).
On January 27, 2006, a shareholders resolution was presented to
Nortel by Vancouver-based Ethical Funds Company, stating that the
corporation, its officers and its directors may be criminally liable
if found to be complicit in human rights violations in China. The
resolution requests that Nortel prepare a report for its shareholders
by November 2006, describing how its policies and management procedures
promote and protect human rights in China and in Tibet and that
it cooperate with independent human rights assessments (see: http://www.ethicalfunds.com/do_the_right_thing/sri/shareholder_action/shareholder_resolutions.asp.).
[*Carole Samdup is a program officer at Montreal-based
Rights & Democracy. She can be contacted via email.]
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|Rangeland Management on the Tibetan Plateau
By Tenzin Tsultrim
Grassland degradation is today a matter of serious concern for the
Chinese government. The issue has worsened since the 1980s and pressure
is mounting on the government to find a solution to mitigate the problem.
To undo the impacts of more than two decades of modernisation in the
pastoral region, the state has adopted some measures, which often
ended up with unintended consequences. This article tries to explain
why, despite its successful scientific experimentation, the government's
approaches have proven futile in restoring the grassland.
Grassland is an essential element of the ecosystem since any changes
in its structure or function can have a direct impact on the entire
region. Today global grassland resources are degrading fast and
threatening pastoral lives; they need to be restored before it is
Degraded grassland is commonly referred to as black beach. These
areas are affected by a combination of human activity and environmental
factors, mainly overgrazing and climate change, but also livestock
increase, human population pressure, encroachment on grassland,
inappropriate policies and interventions, and modernization.
Grassland constitutes the largest land ecosystem in China, which
holds the world's second largest grassland area after Australia,
occupying an area covering over 313.3 million hectares. Grassland
degradation and desertification are a serious problem in China today.
According to the UNDP's China Human Development Report 2002, desertification
costs China about US$2-3 billion annually and an estimated 110 million
people suffer first-hand from the impacts of desertification, which
is spreading at the pace of 2,500 sq km every year.
Grassland Management and the Government’s Plan:
In Tibet, degradation of the grassland is also an implication of
the series of policy changes imposed by the Chinese government.
Tibet's grassland, comprising more than 60 percent of the total
land area, has long sustained the Tibetan people and their livestock.
Despite the harsh and cold climate that puts livestock at high risk,
until China invaded Tibet, the Tibetan people and their livestock
lived subsistence lives using the grassland resources and have strategically
maintained the ecological balance.
Modern pastoral development began in Tibetan nomadic areas in the
late 1950s, which is directly related to the issue of grassland
degradation on the Tibetan plateau. The government today implements
different initiatives to combat the problem, yet the lack of finance
and proper understanding of the cause of the grassland degradation
has made these initiatives often ineffective.
From the beginning of the 1980s, the new policy of household responsibility
system was implemented that marked the end of collective period.
First, communal livestock were divided among every family, and then
later on formerly communal land was leased out. The state believes
that privatization of pasture is an incentive for the herders to
protect the grassland.
The reversal of the commune system also brought about new policies
of fencing pastures, sowing artificial pastures and settling down
herders in permanent housing, which the state views as necessary
steps towards modern developed life. As there is a general lack
of faith in Tibetan traditional migratory grazing systems, the government
feels that fencing can provide reserve pastures during critical
periods. Most disturbingly, the division of grassland into subsequent
rentals and the visual fixing-in-place effect of barbed wire fences
have exacerbated and increased violent conflicts over pasture have
resulted into the deaths of at least 29 Tibetans between 1997 and
In the rush to integrate the herders into the commodity economy,
the state has overlooked the inherent constraints and opportunities
for nomadic pastoralism in the 'market economy' and in the process
has done more harm than good.
Livestock number represents the wealth of a household in a nomadic
community, since animals provide food, shelter and clothing. The
herders living in this harsh environment try to maximize their livestock
as a risk management strategy, since a snowstorm in winter can kill
many livestock, threatening the herders’ very survival. But
the government considers that an increase in the number of livestock
leads to overgrazing, and thus tries to bring the number of animals
into balance with the feed resources. However, these policies lack
For the herders, the concept of destocking is not a solution to
the problem, but an attack on their livelihood. The herders have
more confidence in their knowledge than in any government initiatives.
Interviews show that they react to government intervention with
frustration and scepticism since most cannot afford to destock below
what they see as the level that guarantees their survival in case
of natural disaster. Therefore, there should be proper negotiation
between the government authorities and the herders.
Authorities believe that pests like pika also damage pastures by
making burrows. Although, the role of pika in the degeneration of
pasture is debated, this perceived tragedy has led the authorities
to launch a rodent control campaign in which poison bait is applied
directly into or very close to pika burrow holes. These rodenticides
also affect non-target species. Further, the use of chemicals can
also lead to contamination of air and water when rainwater drains
them from the soil surface into the nearby streams. This in turn
leads to health hazards when consumed by humans and animals.
Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China,
about 0.67 million hectares of farmland and 2.35 million hectares
of grassland have turned to desert, an area the size of a medium-sized
country, and this amount is increasing each year. Restoring the
productive capacity of degraded ranges is a major undertaking; it
is expensive in terms of time, money, and manpower and is very risky.
Once the rangeland has moved over to the lower, less productive
status and an ecological threshold has been crossed, it is very
difficult to return it to a more productive status.
To combat desertification, the government has planted artificial
grasses, in particular certain exotic varieties of perennial forage
grasses, which could threaten the survival of indigenous species.
Though this strategy has proven successful in some areas, in many
others it has failed due to poor seed quality, insufficient soil
moisture, low fertility, wrong choice of species and lack of monitoring
following the seeding.
Rangeland management is more than just a science; it is an art.
It is a technique that requires both scientific and traditional
knowledge. The management approach requires the talent and perception
to detect changes in rangeland vegetation that have taken place
in the past, and to detect how different uses are currently affecting
the rangelands, as well as the ability to fashion plans to both
present range use and future demands. As Miller says, this ‘feel’
for the rangeland can only be achieved by spending considerable
time in such areas carefully looking and listening.
New rangeland policies will also have to better demonstrate, in
economic terms, the contribution grazing land resources make to
overall economic development. This may be an uphill task but policy
reform is what China must bear if it is to overcome the problem.
And because rangeland degradation has reached the level of crisis
in many pastoral areas, there is an urgency to make this a global
[For a full version of this abbreviated paper, please
contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tenzin Tsultrim is a researcher at the Environment Desk of the Central
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Save wildlife – our common heritage
By Tenzin Tseten*
The destruction of wildlife is happening frequently all
over the world. People in this world are so greedy and selfish.
As we know we had a large number of wildlife in all the corners
of the world but now their population has become less compared to
before because of people in this world who just want to show off
their wealth and status. Some will use wildlife for their fashion.
Mostly all the people are killing the animals for their products
like horn, skin and skull etc., as they are so precious and valuable.
The same thing is also happening in Tibet. As we all know Tibet
is a very cold country duet to its geographical position. In Tibet,
we can find large number of wild animals. So the people in Tibet
are using and wearing the pelts of endangered wild animals like
tigers, leopards and other animals, which are trimmed on a traditional
garment to satisfy one’s desire. It is okay if we use animal
products to satisfy basic needs but this is a serious problem if
we use it for fashion; killing the animals- which are very necessary
for maintaining an ecological balance in nature- for a few fashion-crazy
people is really despicable. This balance, as we all know, is very
important for human life and its disturbance tends to have far reaching
consequences for human life. The very existence of the animals is
threatened because their natural habitat is shrinking a lot. All
know that animals play an important part in balancing the ecology
of nature. We must understand that each animal is a complete habitat
with a complex ecosystem. Every single animal has a special role
to play in keeping earth’s ecosystem working. If these animals
become extinct, the ecological balance and even the survival of
the world’s people will be threatened. Tibet’s wildlife
are an ecological ‘time bomb’ waiting to explode and
disappear in the near future.
The ecosystem of Tibet is home to many endangered species such
as the giant panda, drong (wild yak), and antelope, as well as the
lipped deer, snow leopard and many other rare species. But now Tibet
has become a trap country for these animals and they are suffering
Through the centuries human activity didn’t interfere with
nature. This resulted in a wildlife population explosion to such
an extent that sometimes nomads had to hunt the wildlife in order
to control the increasing number, which competed with the nomads’
livestock for grazing. Also, in the past before 1959, many western
travelers to Tibet had found wildlife in plenty wherever they went.
They described Tibet as one of the few places on earth where wild
animals migrated freely, going wherever there is grass to graze.
But now the size of their populations has become very small. Their
products, such as skin, is also used for costumes because Tibetans
use the skins of animals on their dress clothing to make it more
fashionable and they also use parts of the animal skull to make
bangles. So, most of the animals are becoming endangered species
or going extinct. As a result, we cannot handle the situation so;
we are not supposed to be so cruel. They are also like us; so why
are they are killed by the greedy fellow? God created all of us.
We don’t have any right to kill them because it is so against
our religion, which is based on love and compassion. Morally it
is a sin and legally also. It is a punishable activity. For example,
actor Salman Khan was recently arrested for killing a single bird.
So, we must stop slaughtering animals to satisfy our own desires.
To get a minimum amount of happiness we overthrow the maximum happiness.
As a result we are now suffering.
At one time, Tibet was amazingly rich in wildlife, but today, the
question arises whether the future generation will get a chance
to see their entire heritage.
[*Tenzin Tseten is a Xth grade student at Central
School for Tibetans, Bylakuppe, India. This essay is one of the
winners of an essay competition organized by Dharamsala based Tibetan
environmental NGO, Tesi Environmental Awareness Movement (www.ecotibet.org).]
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|China hydro-dams leave local Tibetan's poorer
By Chris Buckley (Reprinted from Reuters news, 15 Feb
BEIJING, Feb 15 (Reuters) - A massive hydro-electric scheme
in western China has left locals poor and discontented, a researcher
at an official think-tank said, casting doubt on official promises
that the country's dams bring prosperity.
Residents in western China's Qinghai province [Amdo region of traditional
Tibet] have become poorer despite a project to build 13 hydro-power
dams along the Yellow [Machu] River for about 50 billion yuan ($6.2
billion), said Zhou Tianyong, a professor at the Central Party School
in Beijing where up-and-coming officials are trained for promotion.
"The more dams that are built, the more we're shifted and
the poorer we become, and the more we see the less hope we have,"
Zhou quoted discontented residents as telling him, according to
a report in the Economic Information Daily on Wednesday.
The dams under construction below the Longyang Gorge [including
Tsanga Gag or Tsanga Dam (Ch. Longyangxia) and Ngogyai Gag or Ngogyai
dam (Ch. Lijiaxia)] in east[ern Amdo region] are surrounded by a
population of one million mostly poor farmers and herders, many
Tibetan or members of other ethnic groups, the paper said.
They are being built below the main dam at the mouth of the gorge.
The main dam began operating in 1987.
Work on some of them began a few years ago, and the project will
take a decade or more to complete, according to reports in state
Officials promised the dams would "promote local development,
but the results of many years of development have been extremely
disappointing", the newspaper report said.
Zhou found residents in the area had an average net income of 1,772
yuan ($220) per head in 2004 -- about half the national average
-- and loss of land and roads from the dams left many even poorer
About a fifth lived in "absolute poverty" on annual incomes
of 625 yuan or less, he said.
NO POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Although they lived close to the dams, they did not have access
to its water and relied on infrequent rains for drinking water.
And power lines passed over their villages without sharing the electricity
generated, he said.
"After the dam water level was raised this year, many farmers
and herders around the dam were moved for a second time, but state
compensation was meagre and they have suffered big losses and become
increasingly poor," the paper said of one of the dams, citing
The Yellow River dams will have generating capacity of 11.7 gigawatts,
compared to the 18 gigawatts the Three Gorges Dam -- the world's
biggest hydro-power project -- will have by 2009.
Zhou's findings have emerged at a time when China is planning several
other ambitious and controversial hydro projects in [on the Tibetan
Plateau] to rival the massive Three Gorges Dam, including a series
of dams along the wild Nu [Gyalmo Ngulchu] River in Yunnan province.
Officials and some experts have said those projects will also lift
local residents from chronic deprivation. But Zhou said locals often
lose out unless the government offers special support and revenue
He told the paper that "this mode of development ... makes
no contribution to local development and lifting farmers out of
poverty, and even harms their interests".
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|1. Border Dispute Between China and Bhutan
Flares over Rare Fungi
(Sources: WTN Dec 21/05, the Independent,
UK Dec 20, 05)
Bhutan has accused China of allowing Tibetans to cross
the border to collect the rare Cordyceps mushroom. Also known as
the caterpillar fungus, the variety that grows in the region is
known as the best in the world and is used medicinally as an aphrodisiac,
to improve lung function, and for its anti-aging properties. Collecting
the fungus is a lucrative endeavour, as it sells for over $1000/100grams.
Bhutan is especially concerned about the alleged fungi collectors
because the 285-mile border between Bhutan and China controlled
region of Tibet is disputed, and has in fact been closed since 1960.
But recently, melting glaciers have opened up previously impenetratable
areas of the border, allowing Tibetans to slip through the unguarded
areas. In response, the Tshogdu, Bhutan’s National Assembly,
has requested that China provide extra security personnel along
Lately, Bhutan has become especially concerned over the border
issue as the Bhutanese claim that China has been building new roads
in the region, violating a 1998 agreement under which China agreed
to “fully respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Bhutan.” As a member of the Tshogdu explained,
“There are chances that the chances that the Chinese might
build more roads further into our territory and gradually claim
the land as theirs since they have their roads on our territory.”
He continued, “Bhutan is a small country with limited land
so even if we lose a small area, it would be a big problem for our
future generations and it also has implications on our country’s
sovereignty.” When the Bhutanese brought up the issue with
China last year, they were told that roads were being built as part
of the economic development of Western China and that the Bhutanese
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|Jammu-Kashmir Yet to Conduct Chiru Census
(Source: Indian Express, Jan 2, 06)
Despite an order from the Indian Supreme Court two years
ago, the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir (J-K) has yet to conduct
a census of Tibetan antelopes, also known as the chiru deer, in
the Ladakh area. The order is in conjunction with another Supreme
Court order to ban the manufacture and trade of shahtoosh shawls,
made from the fine hair of the chiru. Due to excessive hunting of
the animal for its hair, it now verges on extinction. An official
from the J-K Wildlife department explained the difficulties in accessing
the chiru’s habitat, a remote area near the often-inaccessible
Chang Chinuo area of Ladakh, about 400 km from Leh: “We would
have to be airlifted. The department approached the Air Force, which
agreed but asked to be paid for the sorties,” he said. Further,
J-K Chief Wildlife Warden R L Bharti described the difficulties
caused by the time frame set out by the Supreme Court: “[A]
census in that part of the state can be carried out only between
May and June as the weather during the rest of the year is not conducive
for the census. No census can be carried out at –40 degrees
Celsius.” In a further measure to discourage shahtoosh production
and protect the chiru, the J-K Wildlife department also recently
announced that all shahtoosh shawls had to be registered. But by
the end of December, the deadline for registration, only about 100
shawls had been registered.
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|Illiteracy and Education levels worsen in
the TAR despite development drive
(Source: Tibet Information Network, Jan 23,
According to a new report by Tibet Information Network,
recent statistics coming from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
show that, despite opposite trends in China’s other western
provinces, illiteracy rates in the TAR are on the rise while the
proportion of the population with primary, secondary or tertiary
levels of education is decreasing. The statistics come from a survey
of mainly ethnic Tibetans conducted in 2003 and published in the
2004 China Statistical Yearbook. According to the survey, illiteracy
rates in the TAR rose from 43.8% in 2002 to 54.9% in 2003; the proportion
of the population with at least primary education dropped from 62%
in 2002 to 55% in 2003; and the proportion of the population with
at least secondary education dropped from 15.4% in 2002 to 14.2%
in 2003. This is of particular concern because, in contrast, approximately
50% of the population of Sichuan province - the main source of Chinese
migrants to the TAR - have at least a secondary level of education.
According to the Tibet Information Network, “Seen in connection
with worsening Tibetan levels, this indicates that the competitive
educational disadvantages faced by Tibetans within their own towns
and cities have continued to worsen with respect to the increasing
out-of-province migration to these same towns and cities.”
The report sites several reasons for the changes in illiteracy and
education levels: a decrease in education spending in 2003, a decrease
in the number of primary and vocation schools and a slightly marginal
increase in the number of secondary schools despite the severe lack
of schools in the TAR, and problems in rural areas such as prohibitive
school fees, poor quality of schools, and the use of education as
a tool of assimilation into mainstream Chinese society. “If
these findings are even remotely accurate they indicate a marked
failure of the Western Development Strategies of the PRC to improve
education levels among Tibetans, despite official claims to the
contrary,” says Tibet Information Network.
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|Iron-Ore Deposits Found on Qinghai-Tibet
(Source: Xinhua Dec 24/05)
According to the latest geographical survey of the Tibetan Plateau,
the region contains three very large iron-rich ore deposits. Zhang
Hongtao, deputy director of the China Geological Survey Bureau, told
Chinese official media that the size of the deposits ranges from 50
million tonnes to over 100 million tonnes. He further noted that this
is a significant find for China, since the country produced close
to 30% of world steel in 2004 yet had to import 90% of the required
iron. And with recent rises in iron ore prices, the deposits are especially
welcome. According to China’s official state media, “The
newly found iron ore deposits are expected to help ease domestic supply
and boost the development of China’s vast west region.”
Western experts, however, are sceptical of these claims. Gabriel Lafitte
explains, “iron ore is found in many places, but nowhere in
China are the deposits of a grade comparable to what can be imported
from other countries.” For example, the iron content of iron
ore imported from Brazil and Australia is 55%, while that from Chinese
and Tibetan deposits is a mere 33%. Further, Lafitte notes that with
this kind of iron ore, smelting is expensive, dirty and wasteful:
“This means that the only iron and steel makers with any interest
in Tibetan iron ore are far inland, and there aren’t many that
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|Railway Update: Luxury Rail Service from
Shanghai to Lhasa
RailPartners, a China-based rail company, has recently
sought a US $130 million loan in order to finance a luxury train
which would run between Shanghai and Lhasa on the soon-to-be-completed
railway line. Dubbed the ‘Dragon Express’ in line with
the famous Orient Express, which runs between Paris and Istanbul,
the 51 carriage train is set to be built in a joint venture with
Canadian company Bombardier and a Chinese manufacturer. For a price
of about US $1000 per day, travellers will enjoy such high-end features
as king-size beds and butler service. For those with less “cash
to burn,” a government run standard train service will also
run between Shanghai and Lhasa.
In related news, despite Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan’s assurances
that preparations are going well for the trial operation set for
July, on January 20 2006, two locomotives collided on the railway
line about 120 km outside of Lhasa. The crash, which killed one
and injured eight, has been blamed on mechanical failure.
Further down the line, a Chinese scientist predicts graver threats
to the new railway line. Wu Ziway, a frozen soil specialist at the
Chinese Academy of Sciences, fears that global warming could threaten
the railway. According to Wu, “Fast thawing of frozen soil
on the [Tibetan Plateau] might greatly increase the instability
of the ground, causing more grave geological problems in the frozen
soil areas where major projects such as highways or railways run
through.” Although he is not the first to warn of such threats
caused by global warming, he does forecast it happening much sooner
than the previous estimate of 2050.
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|Bush Forest on Fire in TAR
(Sources: Xinhua Jan 3/06; anonymous)
On January 1, 2006 a bush forest fire broke out in Tingri county,
Shigatse prefecture, near Mt Everest in the TAR. Several days later,
the fires still raged, aided by strong winds, destroying over 100
hectares of bush area. According to official Chinese sources, over
600 voluntary fire fighters and local forestry police were struggling
to put out the fire due to a lack of water sources nearby and the
isolation of the site. According to an anonymous source, farmers,
who also joined in the rescue efforts, mainly inhabit the region.
The fire was eventually extinguished on January 9, and while nobody
was harmed by the fire, the cause remains unknown and is still under
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|Animal Pelts Burned during Campaign in
(Sources: TibetInfoNet Feb 10/06; ICT Feb
Coinciding with appeals made by the Dalai Lama and public
education campaigns by exile based groups such as the Tesi Environmental
Awareness Movement, at the Kalachakra ceremony in Amravati, which
took place January 5-16 with an estimated 10,000 Tibetans from inside
Tibet in attendance, a grassroots campaign was recently launched
in the Amdo area of Rebkong. During the campaign, which began on
the first day of Amdo Losar, the local new year (January 29), skins
and furs of endangered species were voluntarily surrendered. The
campaign was scheduled to end on February 12, to coincide with the
last year of the local new year and the celebration of Monlam Chenmo
(the Great Prayer Festival). On this day, the skins and furs that
had been collected were publicly burned. The campaign centred on
Rebkong county (Chin: Tongren, Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture).
Initiated by two locals, Tsetan Gyal and Gonpo Kyap, the campaign
gathered locals together in the Rongpo monastery courtyard, burned
their own animal skin clothing, and urged everyone to stop purchasing
endangered animal pelts and join in the campaign. The International
Campaign for Tibet (ICT) reported that “Tibetans taking part
in the burning of skins have apparently argued that not only is
the wearing of skins and furs against Buddhism, but it is also detrimental
to the Tibetan economy, because of the high prices Tibetans pay
to traders for the illegal skins.”
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China Clamps Down on Sky Burials
(Source: The Telegraph, Jan 13 2006; Richard
Spencer. As posted on phayul.com)
On January 12, 2006, the Chinese government announced that
the practice of sky burial is to be more tightly regulated. The
practice, in which dead bodies are cut into pieces and fed to vultures,
is the most common method of disposing of the dead among Tibet’s
Buddhist population and is quite practical in a region where wood
is scarce and the ground remains frozen for most of the year.
Under the new regulations, sky burials will be banned for “diseased
or infected” bodies, as well as for the bodies of those who
died of unknown causes. The Chinese government claims that these
restrictions will be put in place to protect the vultures, a move
with which the Tibetan Government in Exile agrees. However, China
claims that the new rules are also designed to protect Tibetan traditions.
Tibetans abroad, however, argue that the regulations only serve
to increase control over religion and culture in Tibet. This is
not the first time China has formulated regulations regarding sky
burial. Most guesthouses in Lhasa tout signs warning foreigners
that they are forbidden from attending sky burials or visiting sky
burial sites. However, this regulation is not strictly enforced
and therefore abided by few.
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TEAM Promotes Environmental Awareness
(Source: WTN Jan 15/06; TEAM press release
On December 22, 2005 TEAM- Tesi Environmental Awareness Movement,
an NGO run by young Tibetans in exile working to promote environmental
education and conservation work- began a three-week environmental
leadership and awareness campaign in Amaravati, India to coincide
with the 30th Kalachakra held there in January. In addition to distributing
brochures and holding an exhibition on endangered species, the campaign
also sought to raise environmental awareness through youth empowerment,
which was done by offering leadership and service training in ecological
issues to a group of thirty Tibetan students from four different
schools. The students attended workshops on such issues as waste
management and endangered species. In addition, they were also involved
in raising awareness among Kalachakra attendees and cleaning up
the site. By the end of the training, students had created action
plans designed to implement environmental practices and to encourage
environmental activism in their schools and communities. “It
was not done for ourselves but for the benefit of all. I am proud
to do such work and I promise to continue the work [until] the end
of my last breath” said Tashi Tsering, a Class XI student
who attended the workshops. However, while these campaigns were
run successfully, TEAM remained concerned about the large quantities
of waste being produced at the Kalachakra. While local Indian officials
assisted in cleaning up the site, more than half of the waste produced
was plastic, which was then either dumped into a nearby river or
burnt in the open air. TEAM hopes that waste management will receive
greater consideration in future planning of events of similar magnitude.
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Tibetan Mastiff Facing Extinction
(Source: WTN Jan 24/06; CRI Online Jan 24/06)
Tibet’s pure-blood mastiff (Drok-kyi) is rapidly decreasing
in number, and is facing extinction. The dog, known for its massive
size and strength and its adaptability to the high altitude and
low temperatures of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, is a common traditional
feature of the Tibetan nomadic household. Among mastiff owners,
the dog is regarded as sacred because it is known to protect its
territory, to attack intruders while remaining friendly to its owners,
and to help guard pasture and animal herds. But due to increasing
commercial interests, for which they are crossbred for use as pets
or for their meat, Tibetan mastiffs are now an endangered species.
In addition, natural degradation is furthering their risk of extinction.
Today, a pure Tibetan mastiff is a rare sighting in Tibet. At the
same time, Tibetan mastiff protection societies have been set up
internationally, such as the American Tibetan Mastiff Association,
to preserve pure-blood mastiffs.
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Songta Dam on Gyalmo Ngulchu (Salween
River) Suspended by China
(Source: Wen Wei Po, Jan11; South China
Morning Post, Jan 13)
According to Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong newspaper, the review committee
of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA or “Report”)
of the Thirteen Dams Project on the Salween River (Gyalmo Ngulchu
in Tibetan and Nu Jiang in Chinese) has approved four of the thirteen
dams and called for more studies needed for the other nine dams.
The proposed Songta dam in Tibetan inhabited areas is one of the
nine dams currently suspended. The government has decided not to
disclose the Report, with the justification that the Salween is
an international river and that the project has downstream international
In 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao took the unprecedented step of suspending
the proposed Salween River Project and calling for a thorough scientific
study before the decision-making process was to take place. This
step came at an opportune time because a new Chinese EIA law based
on the American EIA system had become effective a year earlier.
Consequently, important legal precedents have been set by the way
the Salween Dams project has been handled by the government, under
the scrutiny of a variety of Chinese civil society leaders who are
demanding public participation in the governance of the project.
Environmental activists have been demanding for the release of the
Report as well as the holding of public hearings on the project.
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