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Megoe Tso* (Mugecuo or Yeti Lake)

[Trin-Gyi-Pho-Nya: Tibet's Environment and Development Digest. Tibet Justice Center, http://www.tibetjustice.org, July 20, 2004, Vol. 2, No. 4]

[*This story was reported by Yangchen Tsomo and written by Dolkar Tenzing, who can be reached via e-mail at dolkar@tibetjustice.org].

On July 10, 2004, surrounded by snow capped mountains and a clear blue sky, Megoe Tso (Mugecuo Lake, also called Yeti Lake) appeared in front of my eyes again. It is hard to imagine that the sacred waters of this beautiful pristine lake will be drained to generate electricity. I remember my first visit in Megoe Tso in June 2003. At that time, most local people did not even know what a dam was. Those who knew simply hoped that they could find some work at the construction site and earn enough money to survive. However, as time passed, people became more informed about the true consequences of dam projects.

In order to avoid trouble, I disguised myself as a tourist visiting Megoe Tso in 2003. At that time, I did not interview the government personnel. This time, the government official who accompanied us from Kangding Tourism Bureau told me bluntly that she was against the dam project. Speaking about the scenic beauty of different sacred lakes and the 47 snow capped mountains around Gongkar mountain, she told us that officials in her bureau are also against the dam.

One cadre from the Forestry Department told us without any hesitation how the dam will destroy various endemic plant and animal species. He told us that until recently, many of these areas including large expanses of old growth forest and the Mugecuo and Renzonghai lakes - were protected as part of the "Gongga [Gangkar in Tibetan] Mountain National Scenery and Natural Conservation Area." However, under the rubric of development, these protected areas are now being divided as dam construction sites. Calling the unsustainable exploitation of natural areas "progress in economic and environmental development" is a common practice throughout China.

It was not surprising to hear criticism from officers of the tourism and forestry departments, but it was amazing to hear the extent to which many of the local Tibetans understood the consequences of the dam. That evening, while visiting a local Tibetan family, one young girl said she doesn't like the dam because it would harm animals.

She also said the plan is too dangerous. Megoe Tso is geographically located above Dartsedo (Chinese: Kangding). If something goes wrong with the dam because of the area's susceptibility to earthquakes, their lives will be in danger. Her familhy told me that, a few years ago, the Zeduo River was filled with sand in order to meet demand for land from the city, but a big flood inundated the whole city before the construction finished. Many people died and countless others lost their homes and property. Even before the flood, several earthquakes had caused major damage. The family pointed out that this area is clearly not suited for this kind of major construction, and that local people ultimately bear the burden for these repeated failures.

We also met a member of Kham in Green, known as "Green Kangba" in Chinese, a Tibetan environmental NGO. He had come to survey the holy mountains and sacred lakes around Kangding. Many famous lamas (Buddhist teachers) in Kangding are members of the animal protection association, and volunteer completely out of their own initiative. In Kangding, people's understanding of the environment is rooted in the Buddhist doctrine of interdependence of humans and nature.

Kelsang, a middle age herb seller with a prayer wheel in his hand, also had much to say about the dam project. "Every place has its own beauty and uniqueness." "For example," he continued, "Xichang county is the best place to build a satellite. Here in Mugecou, we have a beautiful lake that attracts a lot of tourists. Excluding the income from selling herbs and vegetables cultivated from the field, my family earns several thousand RMB a year solely from business with tourists. Much of my family's expenses for food, clothes and tuition for children's school depend on this income."

He said he may work on the dam construction site to earn some money. However, he is concerned about his family's future. "What will I do after the completion of dam construction work in three to five years? What will others in the village do? How will we support our children?" Kelsang wonders.

Kelsang and his neighbors discussed whether the surge in development projects the expected boost they would give the local income would actually benefit them. They concluded that local cadres and officers are the real beneficiaries of this development. It was apparent from their discussion that corruption and misuse of public funds were rampant in the region.

In Kangding, people point out how each government leader has one expensive imported jeep. If every leader has a jeep that costs RMB 500,000, then how much money did it cost to buy jeeps for one hundred leaders, and where did that money come from? Not surprisingly, these leaders always praise the dam project and argue that building the dam will alleviate poverty for the local population. For a message, one of the local old men had one quotation from Chairman Mao: corruption and waste are big sins.

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