Tibet's environmment after the Chinese occupation

The Chinese Effect

"Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will we realize that money cannot be eaten."

Cree Indian Prophecy

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WILDLIFE DECIMATION: Prior to the Chinese invasion, there existed a strict ban on the hunting of wild animals in Tibet. The Chinese have not enforced such restrictions. Instead, the trophy hunting of endangered species has been actively encouraged. Rare Tibetan animals, such as the snow leopard are hunted for their pelt and sold for large sum of money in the international market. A permit to hunt a rare Tibetan antelope is US$ 35,000, an argali sheep US$ 23,000. Large number of antelope, gazelle, blue sheep and wild yak are being poached by hunters to supply meat to markets in China, Hong Kong and Europe. China is monopolizing international attention and is using the giant panda to earn hard cash as well as to gain political leverage from influential countries. China gave two giant pandas to Hong Kong in 1997 to mark the change of sovereignty. Earlier, China gave two pandas to the then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath and a pair to the then US President Richard Nixon. There are now only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild. According to Li Bosheng (1995) a Chinese researcher, there are only 81 endangered species left on the Tibetan Plateau.

DEFORESTATION: Parts of southern and eastern Tibet boast some of the best quality forest reserves in the world. Large fertile forest belts having trees with an average height of 90 feet and girth of 5 feet or more are found in Tibet. These forest are now indiscriminately destroyed in the name of 'development' by employing more than 70,000 Chinese. The same condition prevails in other regions of Tibet, such as Markham, Gyarong, Nyarong and other areas in Kham and Kongpo regions. Tibet had sustained 25.2 million hectares of forests in 1959 and this has declined to 13.57 million hectares in 1985 alone, which means 46% destruction and this figure is dramatically increasing each day. In some areas, up to 80% of the forests have been destroyed. According to Radio Lhasa Report, the Chinese have removed over US$ 54bn worth of timber from Tibet between 1959-1985 alone.

SOIL EROSION AND FLOOD: Massive deforestation, mining and intensified agriculture patterns in Tibet contribute to increased soil erosion. Deposition of silt in rivers that flow from the Tibetan Plateau such as Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yellow and Yangtse causes siltation in the downstream countries raising riverbeds to cause major floods. This in turn causes landslides and reduces potential farming land, thus affecting millions of people. Scientists associate frequent floods that devastate Bangladesh as being directly associated with deforestation upstream in Tibet.

AGRICULTUIRAL MISMANAGEMENT: During the 1960s, the Chinese imposed agricultural reforms on Tibetans which led to widespread famines. High altitude overgrazing and intensive agricultural production have resulted in the loss of many medicinal herbs and food plants, and has destroyed much of the winter food supply of wildlife. According to Chinese estimates, approximately 120,000 square km in China and Tibet have become desert as a result of human activity. Farmers are forced to buy and use fertilisers and insecticides.

POPULATION TRANSFER: One of the greatest threats to Tibetan people, culture and environment is the massive influx of Chinese civilians and military personnel into Tibet. Today, 6 million Tibetans are outnumbered by 7.5 million Chinese in Tibet. In Lhasa, the ratio between Chinese and Tibetan is 2:1. As a result, Tibetans are marginalised in economic, educational and social spheres and the rich Tibetan culture and tradition is rapidly disappearing and reduce them to second class citizens in their homeland. Thus violating the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people as guaranteed under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

HYDRO-ELECTRIC PROJECT: The construction of a hydro-electric power station at the Yamdrok Tso (Yamdrok Lake), about 100km southward of Lhasa is one of the China's most unsustainable and environmentally catastrophic 'development project'. But in 1993, all the fresh water springs in the area dried up and Tibetan villagers were forced to drink the water from the lake which resulted in diarrhoea, hair loss and skin diseases. Extraction of borax, chromium, salt, copper, coal, gold and uranium is being vigorously developed by the Chinese government as a means of providing raw materials for industrial growth. Seven of China's 15 key minerals are due to run out within a decade, so the rate of mineral extraction in Tibet is rapidly accelerating.

MILITARISATION OF TIBET: Tibet has been converted to a land for dumping nuclear waste. In 1994, China nuclear industry Corporation offered Western countries nuclear waste disposal facilities at US$1500 per kilogram. The reports suggested that around 4000 tonnes of such nuclear waste would be sent to China by the end of the 10th century. An estimated 3,00,000 to 5,00,000 troops of which 2,00,000 are permanently stationed in the so called Tibet Autonomous Region. The Chinese military presence in Tibet includes, 17 secret radar stations and 14 military airfields, 8 missile bases, and at least 8 ICBMs, 70 medium-range missiles and 20 intermediate range missiles.

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For more information on the protection and
restoration of Tibet's fragile environment, contact:

Environment & Development Desk,
Dept of Information and International Relations,
Central Tibetan Administration,
Dharamsala. HP 176 215, India