June 19, 2008
   Posted in News Flash
Published By Tashi

Tibet Aspect of China Quake

————————- by Dolma Yangzom ————————-

Thursday, 19 June 2008, 10:50 a.m.


China earthquake epicentre on 12 May 2008/Photo:SFT, New York.

The earthquake that jolted China at 2:28 pm local time on May 12 of this year left several thousand people dead and homeless. According to official Chinese sources (Peoples Daily), 69,170 people have died and 17,427 people have been reported missing, as of June 16, 2008. On June 12, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that at least five million people have been left homeless as a result of this massive earthquake. The earthquake, which was one of the worst natural calamities to hit China since the 1998 Yangtze River flood that left 14 million people homeless and resulted in a net property loss of $24 million, has received tremendous sympathy and support from all around the world. Even Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (of the Peoples Republic of China) has gone on to call the earthquake, the “most destructive” with the most widespread impact, since the founding of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 (Tibetan Review, June 2008).

The earthquake that measured 8M on Richter scale had its epicenter in the Lunggu (Ch: Wenchuan) county in Ngaba Qiang Tibetan (Ch:Aba) Prefecture of the Sichuan Province. The shock waves of the earthquake were felt not just in the neighboring provinces but also as far as Beijing, Shanghai, and countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. With a population of 111,800, Lunggu lies in the Southeast part of the Ngaba Qiang Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, 146 km to the northwest of Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan (Peoples Daily). It covers an area of 3,537 sq. km and has a diverse ethnic population consisting of Han, Tibetans and Qiang. According to official Chinese reports, 15,941 people have died from this county alone, as of June 16, 2008. Although the numbers of Tibetan deaths from this region remain unknown, we have realized that it is due to the sheer topography of the Tibetan inhabited areas that it has been least affected by the tremors. It has also been known that the few Tibetans who have died as an aftermath of the quake were the ones who lived in the lowland areas of the Sichuan Province.

As per reports released by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) based in Washington DC and TibetInfoNet based in London, some of the Tibetan inhabited areas that were hit by the quake includes Lunggu, Tashiling (Ch: Lixian), Rongdrak (Ch: Danba), Drugchu (Ch:Zhugu), Sungchu (Ch: Song Pan), Trochu (Ch: Heishui), Maowun (Ch: Maoxian), and Dartsedo (Ch: Kangding) counties, all of which are located in Sichuan Province. In the four affected areas of Dartsedo, Rongdrak, Chaksam (Ch: Luding) and Gyesur (Ch: Jiulong), a total of 68,167 rooms [not homes] have been reportedly damaged or collapsed to varying degrees. According to information received by Kham aid Foundation based in Los Angeles, of all the Tibetan regions that have been affected by the quake, Rongtrak county has been the most heavily damaged, and Nyitso and Garthar monasteries have bore some cracks. While Garthar Monastery is located to the west of the epicenter and lies at the border of Rongtrak county, Nyitso Monastery is further towards Tawu (Ch:Daofu) county. Although these areas havent been seriously affected by the quake, they still remain highly vulnerable to future damages owing to their age-old construction. Nyitso monastery is estimated to be about 350 years old.

Photo:BBC

Due to the lack of foreign media access to these regions, very limited information has been accumulated about causalities in the above regions. However, unconfirmed estimates from TibetInfoNet puts Tibetan casualties around 100-150, far lower than what could be expected from such a disastrous quake. According to other reports obtained by Kham aid, 2871 Tibetans have lost their lives in Ngaba Prefecture and 9 in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Prefecture, and at least two people have lost their lives in earthquake-caused rockslides in the Gudrak township of Dartsedo, as of May 18th, 2008.

Also, following the quake, the power supply facilities in the Ngaba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture have suffered huge setbacks. The region had no power supply even on the third day after the quake, reported Chinese official source Xinhua. Although no other specific details could be obtained from the Tibetan quake hit areas, there is fear of serious landslides in the nearby Tibetan and Qiang villages in the Ngaba Prefecture.

Although the earthquake hit several areas of China, including many parts of Tibet, the damage caused by the quake within the Tibetan areas has been much less. A green house contractor for Kham aid from Kakhog (Ch: Hongyuan) reported that counties such as Kakhog and Barkham (Ch: Maerkang) in the Ngaba Prefecture have not witnessed any serious damage from the quake probably because the livelihoods and lifestyles of Tibetans differ completely from those of the Chinese in the region. As the scattered populations of Tibetans living around the quake site live in nomadic tents or traditional houses built of wood and stones, they may have been least affected, according to some Tibetans who have recently escaped Tibet. As per Radio Free Asia, the earthquake hit at a time when most of the Tibetan adults were away from their homes harvesting Yartsa Gunbu (Cordycep sinensis) and therefore were at a lower risk of being hit by it severely.

The earthquake also resulted in some serious environmental threats. “The National Development and Reform Commission of China released a report saying that 391 reservoirs in five provinces have been damaged” (NewYorkTimes, May 15). There are serious threats of flooding as a result of the damages on these reservoirs. Additionally, the “quake lakes” formed as a result of rivers being blocked by landslide, as an aftermath of the disastrous quake, became a primary concern for several experts, environmentalists, and the local people. BBC reported that more than 30 quake lakes have been formed as a result of the earthquake, which is also prone to flooding. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF China), “20 panda reserves in the nearby areas have been directly affected in the earthquake.”

News about the damages caused by the quake in Tibet is scant, but that doesnt however, refute any incidence of damages.

–Report filed by Dolma Yangzom, staff of the Environment and Development Desk of DIIR.

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