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Preserving 'heaven on Earth'

By Lin Shujuan (China Daily) 5 May, 2010

Readers Note: Please take cynical view of the article below as it only shows part of this disturbing picture. As China creates wildlife zones and nature parks throughout Tibet it is simultaneously doing great harm to the Tibetan Nomads and their families. This nature designation plan is a ruse for the forcible displacement of the Tibet people from their historic land and livelihood. The raising and the grazing of yaks, sheep and goats for their wool and other byproducts has been a tradition for well over a thousand years. This has been done without harm to the environment and the wild life that live on it. What other reason is there for this obsequious develop than to hold the land for their own destructive mining and to control the movement of the Tibetan People. Nomads. : Editor

Preserving 'heaven on Earth'
Tibetan prayer stones near Gyegu town, Qinghai province. Environmentalists
 say the respect for nature that is inherent in Tibetan Buddhism will
 go a long way in conservation efforts. Huo Yan / China Daily

Reconstruction efforts in quake-ravaged Yushu are being focused on developing it into an eco-tourism destination, with significant input from the locals. Lin Shujuan reports

Yeqing, 61, lost his wife and broke three of his ribs when the 7.1 magnitude earthquake jolted the Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Qinghai province on April 14. But the party secretary of Ganda, a village sitting on the outskirts of the epicenter Gyegu town, has had little time to grieve over his own loss or pain.

After three weeks of intensive rescue and relief works, he has another major task on hand.

Ganda, which was almost leveled by the quake and lost 58 of its 900 residents, is one of two villages piloting the post-quake reconstruction efforts, which will form the basis of a comprehensive plan to build Yushu into an eco-tourism destination.

On Tuesday, villagers joined officials and experts on ecology preservation, economic development and city planning to discuss details of this plan.

Yeqing, a party leader revered by the villagers, says he has to be all ears, and pool the wisdom of a diverse group of people to ensure a successful reconstruction.

"This is about reconstructing homes," he says. "And by home we mean not only a house to live in, but also a place where you feel safe culturally and financially."

The villagers of Ganda are no strangers to large-scale resettlement. They landed in Ganda five years ago as part of a major initiative to protect the fountainhead of the nation's major rivers.

To create an ecological buffer zone for the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers, the government launched the 631 million yuan ($92 million) resettlement project in 2005, relocating 89,358 people in more than 10 counties, cities and autonomous prefectures of Qinghai province.

More than 900 people in 242 households left their homes on the pastures near the Three Rivers Source for Ganda, where the government provided them with free housing and a living subsidy.

Each household receives an annual subsidy of 6,000 yuan ($877) and an extra 1,000 yuan ($146) for fuel. These subsidies will last till 2015, after which the migrants are free to return to their original homes.

Many relocated herders saw the relocations in a positive light as they thought settled life was bound to be better.

But things were not as rosy as they imagined.

Preserving 'heaven on Earth'

Herder Tashi-Sonam, for example, could not get used to having to buy daily necessities.

"Here, you've got to buy everything, but on the pastures we got everything we needed from the animals. We burned dung for fuel there, but here we've got to pay for coal or gas," he says.

Feng Yongfeng, a senior environmental journalist from Guangming Daily, believes a failure to effectively replace herders' livelihoods has led to a drop in their living standards.

Hashi Tashi-Dorjie, a Tibetan environmentalist based in Yushu, says: "One thing we've learnt from this experience is that ecological preservation is a complicated issue and must accommodate all interest groups to work out a sustainable solution."

Known as Zhaduo among locals, the 47-year-old was once an assistant to Sonam-Dargyi, a hero of the fight to save the Tibetan antelope on Hol Xil, or the Kekexili Reserve. Since his mentor's death in a gunfight with poachers in 1994, Zhaduo has become the most active and influential environmentalist on the Tibetan plateau. He now serves as the deputy secretary-general of the Qinghai Three Rivers Ecological Protection Association.

Over the years he has won many awards for his work, including the high-profile "The Person of the Year" in 2006, given by China Central Television.

An advisor to the reconstruction project in Ganda, Zhaduo says: "One thing we are worried about is that Yushu will become just another 'eco-tourism' city where tourism takes precedence over ecological protection."

Yushu boasts a pristine environment and is home to several lamaseries of Tibetan Buddhism.

"An eco-tourism city on the (Tibetan) plateau is the best way to restore and preserve this 'last heaven on Earth'," says Zhaduo, who is now based in Saimachang, a temporary settlement for quake survivors in Gyegu.

However, Yushu's fragile, high-altitude plateau ecology presents unique challenges.

Zhaduo is calling on the government to consider suggestions from all walks of life, especially the locals.

"Construction of an eco-tourism destination must start with the establishment of a well functioning ecological protection mechanism," he says. "That means it is every local resident's responsibility to build Yushu into an eco-tourism destination."

Yushu is best developed as "an open-boundary ecological museum", he says, where every aspect of life in the prefecture - the way the houses are designed and built and the way the residents live - are examples of ecological protection.

Zhaduo is confident of this happening, given the Tibetans' love of nature.

Zhaduo revealed that when Sonam-Dargyi set out for Kekexili, he was actually eyeing the mining opportunities in the resource-rich Gobi desert. It was the frequent encounters with poachers that transformed the entrepreneur into an ecological hero.

Zhaduo says traditional Tibetan lifestyles are environmentally friendly, especially because of Tibetan religious traditions.

Tibetan Buddhism advocates respect for life and nature, and Tibetans revere their mountains and lakes.

"It is very easy to use these traditions and religious teachings to urge local herders to fight against environmentally damaging behavior," Zhaduo says, although he admits this could take a while, given the poor infrastructure and communication in the area.

The quake, tragic as it was, has brought extensive support from across the world.

"This will accelerate the process (of environmental protection)," Zhaduo says.


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