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U. New Hampshire Tibet Forum Attracts Hundreds

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 00/04/17 Compiled by Thubten (Sam) Samdup]

By Christine Fagan

The New Hampshire

U. New Hampshire

DURHAM, N.H. April 14, 2000 (U-WIRE) -- University of New Hampshire Junior Jaimee Gould and graduate student Dave Howland turned a class project they did last semester for Tourism 700, Social Impact Assessment, into a lively and educational forum that was attended by close to 200 people in the MUB Strafford Room Wednesday night.

Titled "Tibet, China and The World Bank," Gould and Howland teamed up with the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and the Office of Sustainability Programs to present it. The two hope the forum will shed light on this complex issue.

According to information from the World Bank and The Tibet Information Network, China is a country plagued by poverty and overpopulation. In 1994, the government started a series of poverty reduction projects, after obtaining a loan of $160 million from the World Bank.

The forum focused on a specific project called the Western Poverty Reduction Project. If the project is completed, $40 million of the total will go toward relocating 60,000 starving farmers from eastern Qinghai (CH'ING-HAI) to the Qaidam basin in western Qinghai, and there supplying them with modern farming and irrigation techniques.

The land in western Qinghai, however, is traditionally Tibetan and is the birthplace of the Dalai Lama. This led to protest, so the World Bank halted the project and put the $40 million on hold until the situation can be more clearly examined.

Gould and Howland put a considerable amount of effort into coordinating the forum and were able to bring together four speakers who were knowledgeable about different aspects of the dilemma.

Steve Curwood moderated the forum. Curwood is executive producer and host of National Public Radio's Living on Earth and shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1975, as part of the Boston Globe's education team.

Curwood first introduced Losang Rabgey, who traveled from Washington D.C. to speak. She is a Tibetan scholar and doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of London. Ragbey is a member of the International Campaign for Tibet and spoke about the detrimental effects this relocation project would have on the minorities living in western Qinghai.

Rabgey's mother fled Tibet in 1959, when China invaded it. Her father was a monk and became a designated bodyguard of Dalai Lama when he fled to India. The two met there, and after Rabgey was born, the family won a lottery that allowed them to relocate to Canada.

Tension in the room mounted slightly when Chinese professor Changsheng Li took the microphone from Rabgey. Audience members looked from one to the other, perhaps expecting sparks. But the evening remained polite and there were no arguments.

Li is a former senior official at China's National Environmental Protection Agency. Today he is an associate research professor here at UNH, in the Complex Systems Research Center. His focus is on the relationship between humans and their environment.

Li surprised some members of the audience by expressing his concerns about the effects of the project on locals in western Qinghai, as well as the ability of the farmers to survive there. He said that some politicians in China have ideas that can "go beyond common sense."

The two remaining speakers were Stuart Leiderman, doctoral candidate at UNH's Natural Resource Department, and Dennis Meadows, professor of systems management and director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at UNH.

Meadows, who said after the forum that he thinks "it's an abysmal project and it's going to have catastrophic effects," nevertheless decided to represent the World Bank at the event. He said that since the other speakers all spoke against the project, he wanted to provide the audience with the other perspective, and played a convincing role as World Bank representative and businessman.

Curwood said that he was glad Meadows took the time to represent the World Bank because it is a complex issue.

"Do we not give Chinese a dime until they're perfect? Where do we draw the line?" Curwood said. "It's a tough question."

The World Bank is meeting in Washington D.C. this weekend to discuss this issue. The forum was a precursor to this event for some students heading down there to protest the project this weekend.

Junior Ivy Carlson, coordinator of SEAC, helped to organize the forum and is going this weekend, as is senior Adam Wilson. Wilson said he knows at least 50 students who are going, some in three designated vans and others by bus from Boston.

Carlson, Gould and Howland said they were all very pleased with the big turnout at the forum. Rabgey said she found it very interesting and learned a lot from the other presenters.

"It's so nice to see a lot of people," Rabgey said. "We touched on a variety of issues, and it's hopeful to see so many students involved."

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