Tibet’s Environment, Is It Better or Worse?

Claims by China that Tibet under Beijing’s rule has protected and preserved its environment are contradicted by miles of mountains scarred by mining and rivers fouled by chemical waste, with Tibetans protesting Chinese mining companies’ assaults on their homeland frequently beaten and arrested, Tibetan sources say.

“Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR] remains one of the areas with the best environmental quality globally, with stable local biodiversity and ecosystems in 2019,” a government report cited in a June 5 report by the official Xinhua news service says.

“The report, released by the regional department of ecology and environment, shows that water quality in major rivers and lakes, as well as air quality in the region, remained good last year,” the Xinhua story carried in the English-language China Daily said.

Chinese mining operations in Tibetan areas “have caused great harm to the environment,” however, said Zamlha Tenpa Gyaltsen—a Tibetan environmental researcher at the Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala, India—speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service in a recent interview.

“Tibet as the Roof of the World used to have a pristine environment, with hardly any problems with air and water. [But] the Chinese have excessively exploited Tibetan natural resources, and this has created issues with air and water pollution, and many animal species are now extinct,” Gyaltsen said.

A Tibetan living in the TAR’s Nagchu (in Chinese, Naqu) prefecture meanwhile said that recent construction booms in Nagchu, now designated a prefecture-level city since 2018, have drawn many Chinese immigrants into the area.

“And due to this population growth, development activities and construction have degraded the environment, and the harm that Chinese development has brought here is now irreparable,” the source said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.

Millions of Tibetan nomads have now been forced from their traditional grasslands by Chinese government policy, “opening their land for the extraction of resources and ending traditional agricultural practice which have sustained and protected the Tibetan environment for centuries,”  London-based Free Tibet said in an April 24 report.

“Chinese government-owned mining companies are quickening their extraction of copper, gold and silver in Tibet,” Free Tibet said, adding that these mines are usually based close to rivers and that most workers in the mines are Chinese, who carry out their work without regard to the environment or to areas of religious significance to Tibetans living nearby.

Though Tibetans carry out frequent protests against the damage caused by the mines, “these protests are met with arrests and excessive force by police and security services, who often use batons, tear gas and even live fire to disperse protesters,” Free Tibet said.

Online calls by Tibetans to protect the environment or end the poaching of protected wildlife meanwhile bring swift retribution from the state, which regards campaigns organized by local communities as a threat to its authority and control in politically sensitive Tibetan regions of China, sources say.

On Dec. 6, 2019, a Tibetan man detained in western China’s Qinghai province on charges of disturbing social order after he complained online about official corruption and illegal mining, was convicted following a two-day trial and handed a seven-year term in prison.

Anya Sengdra, a resident of Kyangche township in Gade county in the Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture—a part of eastern Tibet’s historical region of Amdo—was widely respected in his community for his campaigns, sources said.

 RFA,2020-06-14

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