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Flash Floods Destroy Homes of Poorest Tibetans in Qinghai

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/08/22; August 22, 2003.]

20 August 2003
By Kate Saunders

Tibetans who lost their livestock and livelihoods in snowstorms in Qinghai province in 1995-7 have now lost their homes due to the most severe storms that have been reported in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. On 29 July torrential rain and hail led to a flash flood and landslide from the mountain behind the main street in Kyegudo county town (Chinese: Yushu), leaving thousands of people homeless, according to reports from the area. One child died and many more are injured and in hospital. Most of the families affected had moved to the town from rural areas following the snowstorms a few years ago, which devastated herds of livestock and caused severe hardship to nomadic communities.

Mud, hail, and torrents of water slid down the mountain and destroyed 67 houses in Kyegudo, severely damaging 300 more, and deluging other compound blocks, according to reports from Tibetans in the area. Since the floods, homeless families in the area are living in thin cotton tents provided by the local authorities. Those whose homes are still underwater are in tents or camping in upper floors of multi-storey buildings.

Heavy rains are still continuing in the area and last Friday (15 August) hailstorms destroyed roads and bridges in Nangchen (Chinese: Nangqian) county, a poor and remote semi-nomadic mountainous area in Qinghai bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region. At least 26 bridges were destroyed and 35 km of roads were destroyed by mudslides or washed away, according to reports from the area. In Nangchen at least 140 mud homes plus 62 government offices and homes were destroyed by the hail and floods. Crop damage in Nangchen is also extensive at a time when the barley is nearly ready to harvest.

Ann Carswell of the Edinburgh-based Jinpa Trust, which carries out aid work in the area, said that one of Jinpa's clinics in Yushu prefecture was virtually destroyed by the flash floods. Carswell said: "The loss of the barley crop is particularly devastating as these people are semi-nomads who already live at bare subsistence level." Nangchen is one of the poorest areas in the whole of the PRC. It is the semi-nomads, the poorest of the local people, and those people who moved to Kyegudo after losing everything in the previous snowstorms that are of particular concern. They cannot survive without outside assistance.

Television footage of the floods broadcast on Yushu TV mainly focused on the more expensive homes affected and details of the number of motorbikes and cars lost, as well as showing footage of Chinese soldiers helping with the rescue operation, rather than drawing attention to the plight of the poorest Tibetans living there. Aid workers in the area are concerned that the situation of these Tibetans will become more desperate with the onset of winter in October.

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