For almost over two thousand years, Tibet with its three administrative regions, Dotoes, Do-med and U-Tsang existed as a sovereign nation. The communist Chinese invaded and occupied the country in 1949 and today China refers only to the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which they created in 1965 as “Tibet”.
Tibet, commonly known as the “roof of the world” is situated at the very heart of Asia. It is one of the most environmentally strategic region in the world. Tibet lies in the north of India, Nepal Bhutan and Burma; west of China and south of East Turkistan. Covering a total area of 2.5 million sq. km., more than 3/3rd the size of India, it stretches some 2,500 km from Image by Andrea Russel west to east and 1,500 km from north to south. It has an average altitude of 3,650 meters above sea level and many of the peaks reach beyond 8000m, Mt Everest (Mt. Chomolungma), with 8,848m, being the world’s tallest.
The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau on earth and towers over the central part of the continent of Eurasia. It is bounded by the Himalayan mountain chain in the south, and Gangkar Chogley Namgyal Mountains in the north. Its western part merges with part slopes downward more gradually with Minyak Gangkar and Khawakarpo Mountains.
Prior to the Chinese occupation, Tibet was ecologically stable and conservation of the environment was an essential component of Tibetans’ daily lives. Tibetans lived in harmony with nature guided by their Buddhist belief in the interdependence of both living and non-living elements of the earth. This belief is further strengthened by the Tibetan Buddhist traditional adherence to the principle of self-contentment, that the environment should be used to fulfill one’s need and not greed.
The world is increasingly interdependent, so that lasting peace regional, national and global – can only be achieved if we think in terms of the broader interest rather than parochial needs. At this time, it is crucial that all of us, the strong and weak, contribute in our own way. H .H. the XIV Dalai Lama
With the invasion of Tibet, this nature-friendly attitude of the Tibetan people was trampled upon by a consumerist and materialistic Chinese communist ideology. The invasion was followed by wide-spread environmental destruction in Tibet, resulting in deforestation, overgrazing, uncontrolled mining, extinction of wildlife, nuclear waste dumping, soil erosion, landslides and other perils. The government of China continue to extract various natural resources without any environmental safeguard, as a result, Tibet is facing an environmental crisis, the ramifications of which will be felt far beyond its borders.
More than 1.2 million Tibetans, about one sixth of the total population, have died in Tibet since 1949 due to political persecution, imprisonment, torture and famine. Over 6000 of Tibet’s rich religious and other cultural centuries have been destroyed. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of the six million Tibetans was forced to leave Tibet in 1959 and seek asylum in India. About 85,000 Tibetan refugees followed him and sought refuge primarily in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
ENVIRONMENT CONDITION BEFORE CHINESE OCCUPATION
Tibet has the most successful system of environmental protection of any inhabited region in the modern world. Formal protection of wildlife and environment through parks and reserves were unnecessary as Tibetan Buddhism taught the people about the interdependence of the earth. Buddhism prohibits the killing of animals and advocates loving compassion for living beings and the environment. And above all, Tibetan Government banned the hunting of animals.
In the Horse Water Year in 1642, His Holiness the Great Fifth Dalai Lama became the spiritual and political mentor of Tibet. From this date, in the 10th month of every year, a Decree for the Protection of Animals and the Environment was issued in the name of Dalai Lama by the Tibetan Government.
Over 100,000 species of higher plants used to grow in Tibet, many of them rare and endemic. The plant species also include about 2,000 varieties of medicinal plants used in the traditional medical systems of Tibet, China and India. Rhododendron, saffron, bottle-brush, high mountain rhubarb, Himalayan alpine serratula, falconer tree and hellebonne are among the many plants found in Tibet.There are altogether 400 species of rhododendron on the Tibetan Planteau, which make up about 50 percent of the world’s total species. According to Wu and Feng (1992), the Tibetan Plateau consisted of over 12,000 species of 1,500 genera of vascular plants, accounting for over half of the total general found in China.
BIRDS: In Tibet, there are over 532 different species of birds in 57 families, which makes about 70.37 percent of the total families found in China. Some of then include stork, wild swan, Blyth’s kingfisher, goose, jungle flycatcher, redstart, finch, grey-dided thrush, Przewalski’s parrotbill, wagtail, chickadee, large-billed bush warbler, bearded vulture, woodpecker and beautiful nuthatch. The most famous and rare bird is the black-necked crane called trung trung kaynak in Tibetan.
WILD ANIMALS: The mountains and forests of Tibet were once home to a vast range of rare and endangered wild animals including the snow leopard, clouded leopard, lynx, Tibetan taking, Himalayan black bear, brown bear, wild yak (drong), blue sheep, musk deer, golden monkey, wild ass (Kyang), Tibetan gazelle, Himalayan mouse hare, Tibetan antelope, giant panda, red panda and others.
FOREST : Tibet’s forest cover totaled 25.2 million hectares. Most forests grow on step, isolated sloped of above 35 degree in the river valleys of Tibet’s low lying southeastern region. The principle types are tropical Montana and subtropical Montana coniferous forest, with ever green spruce, fir, pine, larch, cypress, birch and oak among the main species.
MINERALS: Tibet also had rich and untapped mineral resources. It has deposits of about 126 different minerals accounting for a significant share of the entire world’s reserves of gold, lithium, uranium, chromite, copper, borax and iron. Tibet has the largest high-grade uranium deposit in the world. Amdo’s oil fields produce over 1 million tons of crude oil per year.
RIVERS: Tibet is the source of many of the Asia’s major rivers, including the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), Senge Khabab (Indus), the Langchen Khabab (Sutlej), the Macha Khabab (Karnali), Arun (Phongchu), the Gyalmo Ngulchu (Salween), the Zachu (Mekong), the Drichu (Yangtse) and Machu (Huang he or Yellow River), these rivers flow into China, India, Pakistan, Nepal Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Combodia. These rivers system and their tributaries are the life blood of millions of people in the continent of Asia.
More than 15,000 natural lakes are also found in Tibet and some of prominent lakes are Tso Ngonpo (Kokonor lake) being the largest, Mapham Yumtso (Mansarovar)’ Namtso and Yamdrok Tso.Research figure shows that rivers originating from Tibet sustains the lives of 47% of the world population and 85% of the Asia’s total population. Thus, the environmental issue of Tibet is not an inconsequential regional issue, but has huge global significance to warrant international attention. More than ever before, the need to save the Tibetan Plateau from ecological devastation is urgent. Because, it is not the question of the survival of Tibetans, but half of humanity is at stake.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEVASTATION AFTER THE CHINESE OCCUPATION
China invaded and occupied Tibet, in violation of international laws and norms. The ensuring cycle of resistance and repression culminated in a national uprising against the Chinese on March 10,1959. China’s people’s Liberation Army (PLA) brutally crushed the uprising, killing over 87,000 Tibetans in central Tibet alone over an 18 months period, according of Chinese source.
Well over half of Tibet’s original territory has been incorporated into the contiguous Chinese provinces with only Central Tibet (U-Tsang) and parts of Eastern Tibet (Kham) remaining as the so called Tibet Autonomous Region.
WILDLIFE DECIMATION: Prior 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 permint to hunt a rare Tibetan antelope is US$35,000 and 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 gaint panda to earn hard cash as well as to gain political leverage from influential countries, even as the species is threatened with extinction. China gave two gaint pandas to Honk Kong in 1997 to mark the change of sovereignty. Earlier, China gave two pandas to the then British Prime Minster, Edward Heath and a pair to the then US Presedent Richard Nixon. There are now only about 1,000 gaint pandas left in the wild. According to Li Bosheng (1995) a Chinese researcher, there are 81 endangered species on the Tibetan Plateau, which includes 39 mammals, 37 Birds, four amphibians and one reptile.
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 old growth forests have obviously took hundreds of years to mature. 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 has 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$54 billion worth of timber from Tibet between 1959-1985 alone. According to latest figure in Gonjo, Kham area of Tibet in a day about 500 Chinese logging trucks leave the rea for China loaded with Tibetan timber. Due to mismanagement, much of the logs are simply left to rot or remains uncollected on riverbanks and in logjams. Reforestation is minimal and often unsuccessful as no adequate attention is given to planted saplings.
Effects of Deforestation
(a) Soil erosion and flood: Massive deforestation, mining and intensified agricultural 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. Scientist associate frequent floods that devastate Bangladesh as begin directly associated with deforestation upstream in Tibet.
(b) Global Climatic Effects: The impact of the Tibetan plateau on the global climatic pattern is significant. Scientists have observed that there is a correlation between natural vegetation on the Tibetan Plateau and the stability of the monsoon.
Monsoon rain is indispensable for the bread-baskets of south Asia. Monsoon rain make 70% of India’s annual rainfall. However, strong monsoon rain cause havoc in these regions in the form of various natural disasters.
Scientists such as Elmar Reiter of United State have shown that the environment of the Tibetan plateau affects the jet-streams (high altitude wind) that below over the plateau. This in turn is relate for the cause of Pacific typhoons and the EI Nino (warm ocean current) phenomenon, which stirs up ocean water causing disruption of the marine food chains affecting the entire economy of California coastline of USA, peru, Ecuador; while New Zealand, Africa reel under dreadful drought.
During the 1960s, the Chinese imposed agricultural reforms on Tibetans which led to widespread famine. High altitude overgrazing and intensive agricultural production has resulted in the loss of many medicinal herbs and food plants, and destroyed much of the winter food supply of wildlife. It has also caused wind and water erosions, leading to desertification. According to Chinese estimates, approximately 120,000 square km in Chine and Tibet have become desert as a result of human activity. Chinese authorities are reportedly forcing Tibetan farmers to buy and use chemical fertilizers and and insecticides. Tibetan farmers claim that these fertilizers are highly harmful to crops as well as to the environment.
We are at war with Nature and if chance we win the war, we shall be the losers.
E.F. Schemacher, (Author of small is Beautiful)
POPULATION TRANSFER: One of the greatest threats to Tibetan people, culture and environment is the massive influx of Chines civilians and military personnel’s into Tibet, especially in the last few years. Today 6 million Tibetans are outnumbered by 7.5 million Chinese in Tibet. In Lhasa, the ratio between Chinese and Tibetans is 2:1. As a result of this population transfer, Tibetans have been marginalized in economic, educational, political and social spheres and the rich Tibetan culture and tradition is rapidly disappearing.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of ‘development’ projects in Tibet are non-existent under the totalitarian China regime. On top of this, these ‘development project’ serve to benefit the Chinese immigrants and encourage their influx further into Tibet. This reducing the Tibetans to a second class citizens in their homeland. It is therefore violating the fundamental right of the Tibetan people as guaranteed under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
HYDRO-ELECTRIC PROJECT: The construction of a hydroelectric power station at the Ymdrok Tso (Yamdrok lake). About 100 km southwest of Lhasa is one of the China’s most unsustainable and environmentally catastrophic ‘development project.’ As a result of this project, the lake, which is sacred to Tibetans, is destined to dry up. In 1993, all the fresh water springs in the area dried up and Tibetan villagers were forced to drink the water from the lake. This resulted in health problems such as diarrhea. Loss of hair and skin diseases. Tibetans living in the area lost 16% of their agricultural land permanently to the project.
This project is a clear example of the top down totalitarian Chinese approach, which displays a blatant disregard for the welfare of Tibetan people, their environment and their cultural and religious convictions.
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 can not be eaten.
Large scale mining operations in Tibet began in the 1960s. 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. Today, there are many government and private mining operations in the industrial sector of U-Tsang and Amdo district. Increased mining activities further reduces vegetation cover and thus increase the danger for severe landslides, massive soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat and the pollution of streams and rivers. Seven of the China’s 15 key minerals are due to run out within a decade, so the rate of mineral extraction in Tibet is rapidly accelerating.
Half of the world’s known high grade uranium reserves are reportedly located in the mountains around Lhasa. Tibet has 40% of China’s reserve of iron ore. It also has huge resources of coal, gold, iron, copper, lead borax and oil. According to Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, 31 October 1995, Chinese have stepped-up the exploitation of mineral resources of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The total potentials income from such a exploitation is estimated at US$78.27 billions.
DEVELOPMENT FOR WHOM ?
Until recently, the modernization of Tibet has been exclusively determined by China. Tibetan have had no say and the global development community and no involvement community had no involvement. In the 1990s the major aid agencies have developed an interest in extending their work to Tibet, especially Tibetan areas beyond the TAR.
Foreign aid to Tibet is now at least US$20 million a year and is likely to rise sharply. The model of development, poverty alleviation, and commercialization of agriculture by agriculture by the development agencies fits closely the current Chinese model for accelerating the urbanization of Tibet. This model has negative impacts on the future viability of Tibetan rural and nomadic livelihood.
The biggest of the international agencies – the World Bank and the United National-are keen to demonstrate their commitment to environmental preservation. The result is a willingness to invest large amounts in projects in Tibet. Tibetans already under the illegal occupation of China lack any public voices and are excluded from involvement in projects in whose name they are being designed. Especially lacking is the right to actively participate in the planning and design of development projects. The Chinese Communist Party insists, it is the sole incarnation of the will of the masses. Tibetans may not speak; they are spoken for.
At the worst, these projects, in the name of environmental protection, could make nomadic pastoralism unlivable as a sustainable way of life. They make Tibetans depend on the Chinese economy in which producers are unable to control the terms of trade. If Tibetans settle in towns integrated into the Chinese economy, with less use for Tibetan ways or even Tibetan language, but able to buy colour television sets and motorbikes, China may confidently foresee the end of Tibetan nationalism.
That scenario is by no means certain to happen, but it is plausible. Chinese development trends on the Tibetan Plateau on the whole have marginalized Tibetans and is encouraging the influx of Chinese migrants. There is no effective local participation in these so called development projects.
Recently a newly arrived Tibetan refugee from Tibet reported to the Voice of America on 15 may 1998 that total number of shops, restaurants and bars is 1592 in Chamdo region. Form this total, 1433 (90 percent) to Tibetans. Lhasa, the capital and the holiest city of Tibet has now more than 1,806 Chinese brothels.
Mr. Tenzin, deputy secretary, Communist Party of ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’, in his earlier statement said that he would eradicate these brothels in Lhasa, but no action has been taken so far, as the Chinese brother owners have carry out their shameful activities.
NUCLEARISATION AND MILITARIZATION
The existence of nuclear waste in Tibet was denounced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a press conference in Bangalore, India, in 1992. Beijing as usual, denied the existence of any nuclear waste dumping in Tibet. However, recently china has admitted to dumping of nuclear waste in Tibet. Chinese official new agency, Xinhua reported on 19 July 1995 that there is a “20 square meter dump for radioactive pollutants” in Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture near the shores of lake Kokonor, the largest lake on the Tibetan Plateau.
In 1984, China Nuclear Industry Corporation offered Western countries nuclear waste disposal facilities at US$1500 per kilogram. The reports suggested the around 4000 tonnes of such nuclear waste would be sent to China by the end of the 20th century (Nucleonics week 1998).
The “Ninth Academy” or “Factory 211” or “Northwest Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Academy” is China’s top secret nuclear city adjacent to the town of Haiyen in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Amdo (Qinghai province). ( ) worked at the Chabcha Hospital, directly south of the nuclear city and reported that seven children of nomads whose cattle grazed near the academy developed cancer that caused their white-blood-cell count to rise uncontrollably. An American doctor conducting research at the same hospital reported that these symptoms were similar to cancers caused by radiation after Hisroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945. In the year 1989-1990m 50 people died in Thewo, Amdo all from mysterious causes. Twelve women gave birth in summer of 1990 and every child wad dead or died during birth. A Tibetan woman named Tsering dolma, aged 30, has given birth 7 times and not a single child has survived.
All of China’s openly documented nuclear tests have been carried out at Lopnor in Xinjiang province, northwest of Tibet. These tests have been linked to the increases in cancer and birth defects, but no medical investigations have been carried out.
According to International Compaign for Tibet (ICT), the Tibetan Plateau in 1971 and stationed in the Tsaidam (Ch:Qaidam) Basin, north Amdo. Several reports have claimed that nuclear missiles are stationedat Nagchuka, 150 miles north of Lhasa. It was also confirmed there are three nuclear missile deployment sites in Amdo which are at Large Tsaidam, small Tsaidam and Terlingkha (Ch:Delingha) which house Dong Feng Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (DFICBMs) with a range of 7,000 km. Tsaidam basin is known to be one of the most advantageous deployment sites for China because of its high altitude and isolation.
A new millile production centre is located at Drotsang(Ch:Ledu), 63 km east of Siling (Ch:Xining). It has been producing anti-frigate missiles which are being tested in Lake Kokonor and the secret code number of this centre is 430 (Chutter, 1998).
It was stated that 20 intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and 70 medium range (MRBM) were stationed in Nagchuka. It is reported to have the largest airforce unit stationed at any seculded site. The sophisticated underground storage complex of Dhoti phu, 3.5km nothwest of Drapchi Prison reported contains missiles known as di due kong (ground to air) and di dui di (surface to surface).
A large underground missile storage centre is located at Payi Town in Kongpo Nyingtri, TAR and the secret code number is 809 (Ch: Pa Ling Jue). During mork military exercises, a large number of such missiles are taken out of the complex which are mounted on 20 trucks and some of which had fins. During these exercise, missiles were launched vertically and horizontally to hit prearranged targets (Chutter, 1998).
Once a peaceful buffer state between India and China, Tibet has been milistarised to the point of holding at least 300,00 Chinese troops and up to ¼ of China’s nuclear missile force.
The militarisation of the Tibetan Plateau profoundly affects the geopolitical balance of the region and causes serious international tension. The Chinese military presence includes:
· An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 troops of which 200,000 are permanently stationed in the so called Tibet Autonomous Region.
· 17 secret radar stations and 14 military airfields.
· 8 missile bases (Nyingtri in Kongpo, Lhasa, Drotsang, Siling, Terlingkha, Small Tsaidam, Large Tsaidam, Golmud and Nagchuka)
· At least 8 ICBMs, 70 medium-range missiles and 20 intermediate range missiles.
(* Figures Based on the Report of Environment and Development Desk, Department of Information and International Relation, C.T.A. Dharamsala)
FIVE-POINT PEACE PLAN FOR TIBET
His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressed the members of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. on 21 September 1987 and proposed the following peace plan containing five basic components.
1. Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a Zone of Peace;
2. Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy which transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetan people.
3. Respect for me the Tibetan people’s fundamental rights and democratic freedoms;
4. Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and the dumping of nuclear waste.
5. Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese people.
This Peace Plan of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was rejected by China. In 1989, person to have his environmental work cited as a reason for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1991, H.H. the Dalai Lama was awarded the inaugural Earth Prize for outstanding contribution to ethics and the environment.