Environment and Development Issues



For more than two thousand years, Tibet with its three administrative regions, Dotoe, Domed and U-Tsang existed as a sovereign nation. The communist Chinese invaded and occupied the country in 1949/1950 and today China refers to Tibet as only the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region” (TAR).

Situated at the heart of Asia, with an average elevation of more than 4500 meters above the mean sea level, Tibet, commonly known as the “roof of the world”, stretches for almost 2500 kilometres from west to east and 1,500 kilometres from south to north. It is one of the most environmentally strategic areas of the continent. With a total land area of 2.5 million square kilometres Tibet lies to the north of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, west of China and south of East Turkistan.

The Tibetan Plateau (TP) is the highest and largest plateau on the earth and towers over the central part of Asia. It is bounded by the Himalayan Mountains to the south and the Altyn Tagh and Gangkar Chogley Namgyal Mountains to the north. Its western part merges with the Karakoram mountains, while its eastern portion slopes downward with the Minyak Gangkar and Khawakarpo Mountains. In total the whole plateau is crisscrossed with fourteen great mountain ranges. One can just learn by looking at its map to figure out how the Tibetan Plateau dominates the geography of Asia.

Tibet referred to as ‘The Third Pole’ and ‘The Water Tower of Asia’ reflects the significance of its snow capped mountains and its alpine grasslands. Since time immemorial, the plateau holds the Hindu Kush Himalayan Ice Sheet, considered as the largest ice mass outside the two poles. Its plateau contains more than 46,000 glaciers covering an area of 105,000 km2. The glacier-fed rivers originating from the Tibetan Plateau make up the largest river run-off from any single location in the world. As a result, approximately 1.3 billion people living in more than 5.6 million square kilometres of drainage basin are dependent on the health of the major rivers that originate in Tibet. But critical components to Tibet’s ecosystem are undergoing major transformations due to climate change and failed policies of Chinese government–including receding glaciers, shrinking and disappearance of thousands of lakes, drying of wetlands, thawing of permafrost, and reduced flow regimes in many rivers.

For thousands of years, despite its cold environment, the Tibetan people occupied this plateau and created cultural landscapes based on the principles of simplicity and non-violence that are in harmony with the environment. Guided by Buddhist beliefs in the interdependence of both living and non-living elements of the earth, Tibetans lived in harmony with nature. These beliefs are strengthened further by the Tibetan Buddhists traditional adherence to the principle of self-contentment: the environment should be used to fulfil one’s need and not to fulfil one’s greed.

With the invasion of Tibet, the nature-friendly way of life for the Tibetan people was trampled upon by a materialist Chinese ideology. The invasion was followed by wide-spread environmental destruction in Tibet, resulting in deforestation, overgrazing, uncontrolled mining, nuclear waste dumping, nomads removal from the grasslands and other perils.


Environment Overview

Formal protection of wildlife and environment through parks and reserves were unnecessary as Tibetan Buddhism taught the people about the interdependence of all living and non-living elements of the nature. Buddhism prohibits the killing of animals and advocates loving compassion for sentient beings and the environment.

Plants: The Plateau is home to over 5,000 higher plant species and over 12,000 species of vascular plants. Many of the plant species are rare and endemic. These plants include about 2,000 varieties of medical herbs used in the traditional medicinal systems of Tibet, China and India. Rhododendron, saffron, bottle-brush tree, high mountain rhubarb, Himalayan alpine serratula, falconer tree and hellebonne are among the many plants found in Tibet.

There are 400 species of rhododendron on the Tibetan Plateau, which make up about 50 percent of the world’s total species. According to scientists, the Tibetan Plateau consists of over 12,000 species from 1,500 genera of vascular plants, which accounts for over half of the total genera found in China.

Birds: In Tibet, there are over 532 different species of birds in 57 families, which is about 70 percent of the total families found in China. Some of the birds include: storks, wild swans, Blyth’s kingfisher, geese, ducks, shorebirds, raptors, brown-chested jungle flycatchers, redstarts, finches, grey-sided thrushes, Przewalski’s parrotbills, wagtails, chickadees, large-billed bush warblers, bearded vultures, woodpeckers and nuthatches. The most famous being the black-necked crane called trung trung kaynak in Tibetan. Unfortunately, without the Tibetan sense of environmentalism, several of these birds are threatened with extinction.

Animals: The mountains and forests of Tibet are home to a vast range of animal life found only in Tibet. Many rare and endangered animals face an uncertain future unless their habitats begin to change positively. These rare and threaten animals include: the snow leopard, Tibetan takin, Himalayan black bear, wild yak (Drong), blue sheep, musk deer, golden monkey, wild ass (Kyang), Tibetan gazelle, Himalayan mouse hare, Tibetan antelope, giant panda and red panda.

Forests: Tibet’s forests once covered 25.2 million hectares. Most forests in Tibet grew on steep, isolated slopes in the river valleys of Tibet’s low lying southeastern region. The principal types are tropical montane and subtropical montane coniferous forest, with evergreen spruce, fir, pine larch, cypress, birch and oak among the main species. Tibet’s forests are primarily old growth, with trees over 200 years old. The average stock density is 272 cubic meters per hectare, but U-Tsang’s old growth areas reach 2,300 cubic meters per hectare – the world’s highest stock density for conifers.

Minerals: Tibet also had rich and untouched mineral resources. Tibet has deposits of about 132 different minerals accounting for a significant share of the entire world’s reserves of gold, chromite, copper, borax and iron. Recent research findings revealed that there is a huge reserve of lithium and rare earth elements in certain parts of Tibet. It was also reported by the former Chinese Communist Party Chair, Yin Fatang that the world’s largest supply of uranium was locked in to the Himalayan region of Tibet.

Waters: As mentioned in the introductory part, Tibet is the source of many of the Asia’s principal rivers, which include: the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo), the Indus (Senge Khabab), the Sutlej (Langchen Khabab), the Karnali (Macha Khabab), Arun (Phongchu), the Salween (Gyalmo Ngulchu), the Mekong (Zachu), the Yangtse (Drichu), the Hwang Ho or Yellow River (Machu) and the Irrawaddy. These rivers flow into ten countries such as China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. More than 15,000 natural lakes are found in Tibet and some of the prominent lakes are Mansarovar (Mapham Yumtso), Namtso, Yamdrok Yumtso and the largest, Kokonor Lake (Tso Ngonpo).



 Why Save Tibet’s Environment?

Glaciers and Rivers as source of water

Glacial runoff from these regions feeds the largest rivers in Asia, including Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), Drichu (Yangtze), Machu (Yellow), Zachu (Mekong), Macha Khabab (Ganges) and Sengye Khabab (Indus River) and more. Referred to as ‘The Water Tower of Asia’, the Tibetan Plateau is the head region to major rivers that flow into India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. For China alone, 30 percent of its fresh water supply is met from the rivers flowing from Tibet. For many generations, this Plateau has met the basic necessities to sustain life and flourish human civilizations beyond its vast border. From the arid plains of Pakistan and India to the rice paddies of southern Vietnam, from the great Tonlesap lake of Cambodia to the North China plain, these rivers bring life and joy to millions of peoples.

It is estimated that 1.3 billion peoples live in the watersheds of these major rivers. Beyond the populations residing in the watersheds of these rivers are the additional millions who depend on monsoon rains drawn inland by the Tibetan Plateau. It was also indicated that this Southeast Asian monsoon that recharges most of the rivers downstream varies in intensity according the snow cover on the Tibetan Plateau.

There is little doubt that melting glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau provide a key source of water especially in the summer months; as much as 70 percent of the summer flow in the Ganges and 30–50 percent of the flow in other major rivers. The glacier-fed rivers originating from the Tibetan Plateau make up the largest river run-off from any single location in the world. Perhaps the most critical region in which the melting glaciers will negatively affect water supply (in the next few decades) will be China and parts of Asia, including India and Bangladesh. Zachu or Mekong River, originating from Mount Thangla is the bloodline for the Mekong-region countries. This river flows from the central Tibet through Yunnan Province in China and then flowing through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally ending its journey in Vietnam. This river directly supports approximately 60 million common peoples along its basin from fisherman to farmers.

According to the Chinese Academy of Science, glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau are melting at a rate of 7 percent annually and if the current rate continues, two-thirds of the glaciers on the plateau will be gone by 2050. A separate study by NASA revealed that 20 percent of Tibetan glaciers have retreated in the past 40 years and more than 60 percent of the existing glaciers could be gone in the next 40 years. Some recent studies have also indicated that the black soot depositions on these glaciers are also responsible for accelerating the rate of meltdown due to reduced surface reflection and more heat accumulation.  

Permafrost layers as carbon store

The presence or absence of the permafrost layer entails major variations in the soil’s physical structure, determining, to a large extent, the hydrological and nutritional status of the soil, which in turn, is pivotal in determining the vegetative coverage, plant community structure and productivity. Unlike the ones that are widespread in the Arctic and boreal regions of Northern Hemisphere, the permafrost prevailing on the Tibetan Plateau (1.3 to 1.6 million km2) are alpine permafrost. This type of permafrost are featured by warm permafrost and rich ground ice and are among the most sensitive to climate change and are particularly vulnerable to warming temperature. The alpine permafrost on Tibetan Plateau stores about 12,300 Million tonnes of Carbon. A study conducted at the source region of the Yellow River indicated that a significant amount of methane (CH4) is trapped in the permafrost layer of that region.

Alpine Grasslands and Meadows as carbon sink

Tibet’s rangeland, from the Northern Plateau of upper Tibet to the extreme eastern edge of the plateau, covers approximately 70 percent of the total area of the Tibet. The types of rangeland vary from alpine meadows and mountain scrub to mountain sparse wood and mountain desert, which helps sustain domestic herds and nurture a wide variety of wildlife species.

These rangelands and its cold alpine grassland soils are the major carbon sink and house a greater organic carbon pool. During the growing season, the alpine meadows appears to absorb ‘or’ take up CO2 at the rate of (1840 – 3050) mg/m2.day. Studies showed that total Soil Organic Carbon storage (sampled from the top 1 meter soil) in the alpine grasslands of TP was estimated about 7400 Million tonnes of Carbon.

Wetlands and wetland areas as carbon sequesters

Statistics of the natural wetlands (excluding lakes and floodplains) area by geographic regions in China revealed that Tibetan Highland holds over 51 percent of total natural wetlands. These wetlands are dominated by Salt Marsh, Peat land and Freshwater Marsh. These wetlands tend to trap carbon-rich sediments from watershed sources.

The Wetlands in Tibet play a major role in regulating the flow of rivers and also are the major carbon stores. They act like sponge, absorbing water during the summer when the water is in excess and releasing it in the winter when the runoff is short.

Impact on the Asian Summer Monsoon:

As long ago as 1884, An English meteorologist working in India had the inspired idea that the snows of Tibet and the Indian monsoon are causally connected. Henry Francis Blanford, (in the pages of Proceedings of the Royal Society, in London) proposed that the greater the snow cover in the land of snows –as Tibetans call Tibet- the later the Indian monsoon wets the parched earth on India. Conversely, he suggested, the less the winter snows in Tibet, the earlier the snowmelt, and the earlier the monsoon. The plateau’s seasonal heating during summer and spring plays a principal role in determining the large-scale air circulation in summer. Heating over the Tibetan Plateau tends to generate a surface cyclonic circulation and upper-atmosphere anti-cyclonic circulation which results in the appearance of a large air motion in the eastern side of the plateau. During summer, the Tibetan Plateau intensifies the pressure gradient between the south Asian landmass and the Indian Ocean leading to the flow of air and moisture from the sea. According to many scientist and researchers the ground freezing and thawing of the Tibetan Plateau have a significant influence on the atmospheric circulation. Thus the heating of the Tibetan Plateau is regarded as one of the major factors influencing and contributing to the onset of Asian summer monsoon, which contributes 70 per cent to India’s annual rainfall.



Environmental Devastation as a Result of Chinese Occupation

In 1949/1950, the People’s Republic of China invaded and has occupied Tibet in violation of international laws and norms. The ensuing cycle of resistance and repression culminated in a national uprising against the Chinese on March 10, 1959. Over an 18 month period, troops brutally killed over 87,000 Tibetans in the central part of Tibet alone. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans were forced into exile. 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 to the Chinese invasion, there existed a strict ban on the hunting of wild animals in Tibet. The Chinese have not enforced such restrictions. Indeed, the trophy hunting of endangered species has been actively encouraged. Rare Tibetan animals, such as the snow leopard are hunted for their fur and sold for large sums of money in the international market. In 1990’s a permit to hunt a rare Tibetan antelope is US$35,000 and an argali sheep US$23,000. Deer antlers, musk, bones and other parts of the wild animals are used in Chinese medicine. A large number of antelope, gazelle, blue sheep and wild yak are being poached by hunters to supply meat to markets in China, Hongkong and Europe.

China is monopolizing international attention and using the giant 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 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 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 eighty-one endangered species on the Tibetan Plateau, which includes 39 mammals, 37 birds, 4 amphibians and 1 reptile.

Deforestation: Parts of southern and eastern Tibet boast some of the best quality forest reserves in the world. Large fertile forest belts contain trees with an average height of 90 feet and average girth of 5 feet or more. Although they took hundreds of years to mature, they are now indiscriminately destroyed in the name of development. An estimated 70,000 Chinese work in this industry. Similar conditions prevail in other regions of Tibet such as Markham, Gyarong, Nyarong and other areas in the Eastern and Kongpo regions of Tibet.

Tibet had 25.2 million hectares of forests in 1959, but only 13.57 million hectares in 1985; a 46 percent drop. Regrettably, this figure grows each day. By China’s own estimate, up to 80 percent of the forests in Tibet have been destroyed. The Chinese have removed over US$54 billion worth of timber from Tibet (1959-1985) and, due to mismanagement; much of the wood has been simply left to rot on riverbanks or in logjams. Reforestation is minimal and is often unsuccessful.

Massive deforestation, mining and intensified agricultural patterns in Tibet contribute to increased soil erosion. The Yangtze flood in the year 1998 which claimed the lives of thousands and resulted in a huge economic loss, was blamed by President Jiang Zemin on the rampant deforestation on the Tibetan Plateau. Additionally, scientists associate frequent floods that devastate Bangladesh as being directly associated with deforestation in Tibet.

Agricultural Mismanagement: During the 1960s, the Chinese imposed agricultural reforms on Tibetans in Tibet, which led to widespread famine throughout the country. High altitude overgrazing and intensive agricultural production has resulted in the loss of many medicinal herbs and food plants, and has destroyed much of the winter food supply. These programmes have also caused wind and water erosions, which leads to desertification. According to Chinese estimates, approximately 120,000 square kilometres in China and Tibet have become desert as a result of human activity. Of the available rangeland in Tibet, at least 30 percent is considered degraded.
Chinese authorities reportedly are forcing Tibetan farmers to buy and use chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Tibetan farmers claim that these fertilizers are highly harmful to the crops as well as to the environment.

Population Transfer Programmes: One of the greatest threats to Tibetan people, culture and environment is the massive influx of Chinese civilians and military personnel into Tibet, especially through population transfer programmes. In 1949, the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, had approximately 1,000 Chinese inhabitants, however today their population has skyrocketed to 200,000 and Chinese in Lhasa outnumber Tibetans 3:1. Throughout Tibet itself, the 6 million Tibetans are outnumbered in their own country by the 7.5 million Chinese. As a result of this population transfer, Tibetans have been marginalised in economic, educational, political and social spheres and the rich cultural tradition of the Tibetan people is rapidly disappearing.

In 2000, China had hoped to receive a US$40 million loan from the World Bank to resettle 60,000 ethnic Chinese into north-eastern Tibet. A swelling of world-wide support educated many on China’s population transfer programmes and persuaded the World Bank to drop the project.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of development projects are non-existent under the totalitarian Chinese regime. On top of this, these development projects serve to benefit the Chinese immigrants and encourage their immigration further into Tibet, thus reducing Tibetans to second-class citizens in their own country and violating the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people.

Nuclearisation and Militarisation: The existence of nuclear waste in Tibet was denounced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a press conference in Bangalore, India (1992). Beijing as usual, denied the existence of any nuclear waste dumping in Tibet. However, recently China had admitted to dumping of nuclear waste in Tibet. Chinese official news agency, Xinhua reported on 19 July 1995 that there is a “20 square metre 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 that around 4000 tonnes of such nuclear waste would be sent to China by the end of the 20th century (Nucleonics Week 1984).

The “Ninth Academy” or “Factory 211″ or “North Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Acadamy” is China’s top secret nuclear city adjacent to the town of Haiyan in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Amdo (Qinghai Province). Dr. Tashi Dolma 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 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945.

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 increase in cancer and birth defects, but no medical investigations have been carried out.

According to International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the first nuclear weapon was brought onto the Tibetan Plateau in 1971 and stationed in the Tsaidam (Ch:Qaidam) Basin, north Amdo. Several reports have claimed that nuclear missiles are stationed at 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 (DF- ICBMs )with a range of 7,000 km. A new missile production centre is located at Drotsang (Ch: Ledu), 63 km east of Siling (Ch: Xining).

Resource Extraction: China refers to Tibet as ‘Xizang’ which literally means the western treasure house. The Plateau’s rich natural resources became a resource curse for the local residents and its ecosystem. Since late 60′s, these resources have been exploited in various scales and mostly under very poor environmental norms and regulations. The mining not only undermines the sanctity of the local landscapes but also creates social tension and distrust when standard corporate policies are not followed.

Tibetan communities try to put forward their grievances in numerous petitions to higher authorities against the miners: they are either ignored or harassed. After failing to respond adequately, the local residents then resort to street protest and are immediately suppressed by heavy armed forces. Unlike those protest related to environmental negligence and accidents in many parts of China, those that occur in Tibet are classified as political and the protestors are severely suppressed. In the frequent protests by Tibetan villagers, quite often their immediate concern has been the damages done by the miners to the local streams, rivers, landscapes and pasture land.

With the recent announcement of more than 3000 potential mining sites and many precious mineral deposits in Tibet, it is very likely that there will be more such protests in the future if the miner’s and the local cadre attitude remain unchanged. The state itself is doing everything in tapping these resources, as it is evident from the budget in the 12th Five-Year-Plan for improving the resource extraction economy infrastructures such as highways, railway lines, and hydropower plants.

So far, copper, chromium, gold and iron are the four minerals of greatest interest to Chinese and other foreign miners. These are being mined to different extents at various locations throughout the Tibetan Plateau. Over the past few years, the Chinese state government has shown more interest and has invested in the extraction of lithium ores (lithium carbonate).

Such rich reserves of minerals resources attracts miners of various scales who strive to make quick money without bothering about the standard environmental norms and laws stipulated in the PRC constitution and Law of Regional National Autonomy [Article 9 and 26 (under the general principles of PRC constitution) and Article 27, 28, 45 & 66 of ‘Law of Regional National Autonomy’].

Removal of Drogpas from their ancestral grasslands: For many generations, pastoralism on these rangelands has been the best and the only option to live successfully. Over the time, Tibetan pastoral nomads (drogpas) has skilfully introduced domestic herds and maintained an extraordinary biodiversity of grasses and sedges, enabling human life to flourish at the Third pole. China’s new grassland policies and laws restrict the flexibility and mobility of the nomads; and their livestock are being blamed for overgrazing the grasslands. In reality, these ‘drogpas’ were the first stewards of these vast grasslands and have successfully maintained a sustainable and mobile lifestyle for many centuries.

The compulsory ecological migration of the ‘drogpas’ and herders is grounded in ignorance, prejudice, and a failure to listen and learn. Around the world, governments now increasingly recognize that pastoral nomadic mobility holds the key to sustainability on the dry lands of the world.

In the names of different programs and policies – comfortable housings projects and restore grassland policy, these ‘drogpas’, herders and farmers are being moved or lured to these concrete settlements in large scales. So far, the number of local residents moved in those fake villages and concrete houses counts to more than 3 million in whole of Tibet, including Amdo and Kham province. And still more are planned to move in the following years. These figures reflect the number of people whose lifestyle is now directly under the control of the central government and nothing more.

In those concrete settlements, joblessness and alcoholism amongst the youth are prevalent -where the elders are often seen reminiscing their past lives and reliving them in their memories and the younger ones are scavenging to earn a little extra money. The current policy of forced “villagization” is in fact a very strategic move on the part of the state to keep all the mobile pastoral wanderers in tight leash and to have open access to pastures for extractive industries without facing any resentment. The policy also enables the central government to boast that it has made sizable investments in elevating the lifestyles of local residents. But, as many anthropologist and scholars recognize, development has less to do with external materialistic life than with the freedom to choose and to lead the life that one values and respects. Given the choice of livelihood, we believe that almost all the residents of these newly constructed concrete settlements would prefer to go back to their previous lifestyle without a second thought, even if it meant leaving a two-bedroom house.

Following his mission to China in December 2010 where he saw the conditions of the newly settled ‘drogpas’ and herders in the concrete camps, Prof. Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, publicly opposed the resettlement policy. More recently, on March 6, 2012, at the UN Human Right Council in Geneva, he again expressed concerns about the displaced people living in the “new socialist-villages”.

Damming Transboundary Rivers: Rivers originating from Tibet flows to more than ten countries and play a vital role in the environmental services and socioeconomic of each country. These rivers enable the Tibetan Plateau to become a strategic platform in exercising its dominance over the lower riparian states.

So far China has dammed every major river and its tributaries in Tibet and has unveiled plans to construct even more dams in the coming years. In its 12 Five Year Plan (2011 -2015), hydropower projects are to be prioritized and those that are not completed during its previous five year plan are now scheduled.
Water user communities of the downstream countries are turning their frustration on the Chinese government whose damming projects on the mainstream rivers have greatly affected their livelihood.

Green NGOs in China believe hydropower projects could bring ‘economic development’, but not necessarily to the benefit of local people. They believe that today’s insufficiently transparent policymaking mechanisms are maximizing the interests of hydropower industry, officials and a small number of experts, while driving ecological destruction, affecting local livelihoods and increasing the risk of geological disasters. Chinese government policy is that the hydropower is the cheapest source of electricity.

Many scientific studies have suggested that dams impact the aquatic ecosystem including water flows, water quality, fish habitats, wetlands, and livelihood of people relying on it. Dams also cause heavy loss of water through evaporation, and are also a globally significant source of greenhouse gases such as methane. The rotting organic matter from the vegetation and soils, and detritus that flows in the reservoir also contribute to the green house gas emission.

Not only are these rivers and tributaries dammed for generating electricity but some are also polluted with chemicals and other toxins dangerous for human consumption.

Growing industrialization, population growth, and increasing levels of consumption are placing heavy demands on water resources, which provide vital support for the subsistence livelihood to millions of people.  Currently, there exists no regional framework or forum for South and East Asian nations to discuss or negotiate over water resources, other than the Mekong River Commission which does not include China.  


Development for Whom?

Until recently, the modernization of Tibet has been exclusively determined by China. Tibetans have had no say and the global development community had no involvement. The current development model has negative impacts on the future viability of Tibetan rural and nomadic livelihood.

The Tibetans inside Tibet 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, mapping 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 unviable as a sustainable way of life. They make Tibetans depends on the Chinese economy in which producers are unable to control the terms of trade.

Chinese development trends in Tibet have marginalized the local residents and are encouraging the influx of Chinese migrants. There is no effective local participation in these so-called development projects.



Looking Forward and Recommendations

Tibetan nomads are the expert custodians of the alpine pastures and their knowledge and experience should be incorporated into rangeland management practices. The Tibetan herders should be directly involved in the decision making process or there should be at least a principle of collaborative management attending to the needs of the pastoral nomads and herders alike.

A healthy and sustainable Tibetan Plateau would not only benefit the entire Asian continent but also it helps in promoting peace and harmony within the region, especially between two major emerging powers (India and China). This is an important geostrategic factor.

The Tibetan Plateau is the land bridge connecting South Asia with East Asia. The very survival of almost 1.3 billion people depends on the water resources originating from the Tibetan Plateau. The impact on Tibet’s landscape and its natural resources due to climate warming and human intervention will threaten not only the future food security of many nations but also their development.

Central Tibetan Administration (Dharamsala) welcomes development activities related to social and economic upbringing of Tibetan communities inside Tibet, but these developments besides being sustainable, should not outweigh the preservation of the unique Tibetan culture, language and the environment. These development projects should not spark off any social tension and unrest amongst the Tibetan communities. The development projects should first prioritize training the local Tibetans in their daily life skills and technical know-how to participate in new economic activity and add value to their customary economy.


How You Can Help Tibet Through Eco-Friendly Actions


  • Write letters to your parliaments informing them the real situation in Tibet, expressing concern over Tibet’s environment
  • Establish a Tibet Support Group (TSG) in your community or support your local TSGs in their ongoing environmental campaigns
  • Organize workshops, conference, video & slide show and seminars on environment of Tibet or participate in community meetings on environment and raise the environmental issue of Tibet
  • Tell your friends about the environmental situations in Tibet. Spread the information.


Environment and Development Desk (EDD)

Established in March 1990 at the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR), this Desk was earlier known as Environment Desk. In addition to monitoring and reporting environmental situation inside Tibet, it used to be active in environmental education projects in Tibetan communities in exile. Over the years, EDD has begun to focus more on environment and development issues inside Tibet.

EDD’s sphere of activities are mainly focused on Tibet, and its chief goals are:

  • To monitor and research on environment and development issues inside Tibet;
  • To disseminate information and carry out selective advocacy on promoting sustainable development inside Tibet;
  • To create awareness on environmental issues in the exiled Tibetan community.

Contact Address: Executive Head Environment and Development Desk DIIR, Central Tibetan Administration Dharamshala – 176215 H.P., India Tel: +91-1892-222457, 222510 Fax: +91-1892-224957 E-mail: edd(at)tibet.net