Zone of Peace
China Plans String of Dams in South Tibet.
Tania Branigan in Lhasa
The Guardian, Tuesday October 14 2008.
• Hydropower seen as way to boost local economy
• Environment groups fear wider impact downstream
China is planning to build a string of new dams in southern Tibet to boost
its electricity supply, the region's chief of water resources told the Guardian.
Hundreds of millions of people across Asia depend on rivers that originate in
Tibet, and previous hydroelectric proposals have proved controversial because
of their impact on the environment, local people and communities downstream.
But officials in Lhasa argue the dams are the least damaging way of providing
power and raising living standards in the region. "Tibet is rich in water
resources and has good potential for setting up more hydropower stations and
dams," said Baima Wangdui, director of the region's water resources
department. "With the economic development of Tibet we need more resources. We will take great care in protecting Tibet's natural life and consider the [impact] on
They add that hydropower is cleaner and more efficient than coal, oil, gas or
nuclear power stations to generate electricity. A 2003 study by the
water suggested it could generate 1,800bn kilowatt hours a year in Tibet.
The director said he did not know exactly how many dams would be built in the
next decade because there was no detailed planning as yet. But he added that
experts were considering sites.
"We haven't got any hydropower stations set up along big rivers like the
Brahmaputra, but in the future we will consider setting them up on these
sites," he said. "The upper reaches of the rivers it is forbidden to develop;
the middle reaches [in places like Lhasa and Xigatze] are more populated and
can have limited development under certain conditions and can keep the
with environmental protection; the lower reaches of those rivers in the deep
valleys and some remote areas are the main part we are developing."
Zhuang Hongxiang, an official at Tibet's environment bureau, added: "We are
trying to solve the electricity shortage and do the least damage to our
environment." She argued that environmental impact assessments at the
stage and careful supervision would ensure that the projects did not cause
damage, particularly given that exploitation of Tibet's rich water resources
was low to date.
But Tashi Tsering, a researcher on Tibetan water resources at the
British Columbia, warned that assessments did not recognise the full
damming. While they consider local biodiversity, they frequently failed to
consider water quality and roles played by free-flowing rivers such as
"The rivers and mountains where these dams will be built and new reservoirs
will inundate are often considered sacred.
"Resettlement and compensation cannot solve the issue," added Tsering, at the
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. He said the
shelved a hydropower project at a sacred lake in east Tibet two years ago
opposition. "It's not that the Chinese government's policies are
it requires strategic planning and campaigning from local people, journalists
and environmental groups," he said.
Aviva Imhof, campaign director at the International Rivers Federation, said:
"The headwaters of most of the major rivers of Asia are in Tibet, so
damming them could have implications downstream."
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