Zone of Peace
Tibetans Detail Chinese Exploitation of Their Homeland's Environment
By Steve Herman
Voice of America
10 December 2007
Tibetan exiles say China's exploitation of the Himalayan land is degrading the environment and will have an impact beyond Tibet. They say they believe China will be forced to respond to their accusations because of the current world-wide attention on the environment. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.
A report by the Tibetan government-in-exile contends Beijing's policy of building large-scale infrastructure projects is destroying the fragile Tibetan grasslands and displacing pastoral nomads.
The government-in exile's secretary of information and international relations, Sonam Dagpo, told reporters here Monday that the problems highlighted in its report will have an impact far beyond Tibet.
"This report is not to shame China but to ... highlight the problems which we face in Tibet," he said. "And it's not only for the Tibetan people. Tibet being one of the highest plateaus in the world - we call it 'the roof of the world' - it's the source of all the major rivers of Asia. Whatever impacts in Tibet, it impacts Asia and the world."
The United Nations says more than half of the world's population depends on water from the Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetans' report says plans for hydroelectric dams in Tibet will mean decreasing water supplies in India and Bangladesh, and as far away as Vietnam. It says these projects are meant to supply electricity to Chinese cities, not to address Tibet's water and electrical needs.
The Tibetans, who operate their government-in-exile from the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, say the roads, railways and bridges that Beijing is building to exploit Tibet's natural resources are destroying a traditional culture that the Chinese regard as out of step with the modern era.
Kate Saunders is the spokesperson for the U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet. She says despite the central government's previous refusal to acknowledge warnings of environmental destruction in Tibet, the topic is being discussed within Chinese society. "From a central level there's intransigence," she says, "but on different levels, multiple levels within Chinese society, it's still possible to make some headway and have some discussion on environment."
The activists acknowledge that Tibetan warnings have been ignored by Beijing before. But they say that with climate change now a major issue on the world stage, they are finding it easy to locate scientists and environmentalists who will help to bring pressure on Beijing.
The 250-page report is likely to be viewed by Beijing as a political attack on it by followers of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile, who the Chinese leaders regard as a separatist.
The Dalai Lama said last month that the Chinese government has begun steps to limit deforestation in Tibet, but he said corruption is hampering the effort.
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