Editorial and Op Ed Articles
The United Nations Educational Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) must urge China to halt the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam project that threatens the integrity of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site in Yunnan Province. Local people, non-governmental groups and visitors including local and international journalists are outraged at the blasting and construction workdigging of holes that has started recently at a gorge known to the local Tibetans as “Tak Chong Gak” and to the people of China as “Hutiaoxia.” Tak Chong Gak is one of the most spectacular and awe inspiring natural formations in the area.
With the support of provincial leaders who stand to benefit from the project, construction work has started without proper approval. The project was approved on July 27, 2004, without several project reports required by Chinese law. If the Chinese central government does not stop the project, it will once again find itself in the position of having to support a poorly planned, environmentally disastrous initiative simply because it has already been built. In reality, the Hutiaoxia dam project will be a huge blow to the efforts by China’s third generation of leaders’ in crushing corruption and steering the country towards sustainable economic development.
Speaking for the local people in a signed petition from 9 Chinese organizations, “[t]he local people are not rich but can enjoy basic living.” “Under the high-dam proposal, nearly 100,000 people would be forced to resettle. If the plain is inundated, people will have to move to the high mountain slopes and grassland. This will substantially reduce agricultural production and living standards. The elderly and disabled would face impacts to the livelihoods and subsistence, which would affect the social stability of ethnic minority communities in the region.”
“This area, which contains the first bend of the Yangtze River, witnessed some major historical events in ancient China. Ethnic minority groups like the Naxi, Zaxi (Tibetan), Bai, Yi, Miao (Hmong) and Lisu have … lived here since ancient times and created a shining cultural past. Cultural heritage sites are distributed across the riparian river valley. Once the dam is built, these will be inundated under water. The damages will be irreplaceable,” implores the petition.
An inconsistent and unscientific resource management policy practiced throughout China is allowing short-term, profit-driven disruptive projects inside designated protected areas of natural and cultural significance. This practice now threatens Tiger Leaping Gorge and the first bend of the Yangtze River, key features of the Three Parallel Rivers region. If actions are not taken, the dam will silence the Yangtze River’s natural roaring flow in one of the most spectacular gorges on Earth.
[Readers may directly contact the World Heritage Committee and the World Conservation Union to urge China to save the Tiger Leaping Gorge at the following addresses:
World Heritage Committee,
7 plade de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
Tel: +33(0)145-68-1000, Fax: +33(0)145-67-1690, e-mail email@example.com
The World Conservation Union
Rue Mauverney 28
Tel: +41(22)999-0000, Fax: +41(22)999-0002, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]
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Eastern Tibet: Development and the Reality on the Ground
(A frequent visitor to Tibet, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, wrote this message for the international Tibet support community)
If you travel west on the road from Dartsedo toward Lhasa, it quickly becomes apparent that the Chinese government is sparing no expense to “develop” the towns and villages of Kham into cookie-cutter copies of their eastern relatives. Multi-story buildings are springing up with the requisite stalls underneath selling the same varieties of hardware, auto parts, foodstuff, clothing, and pharmaceuticals. Workers are brought in for the construction. Merchants follow to set up their shops and restaurants.
What is missing in all of this activity is any kind of participation by the local Tibetan population. As one heads further and further west, there is a distinct split between the Tibetan farmers and nomads who populate the region and the mostly Chinese businessmen and women who own the stores, restaurants, and hotels that garner the majority of the cash flowing through the area. Tibetans are once again being left behind, and will soon be completely excluded from the development picture.
While we on the outside spend a considerable amount of time and energy discussing the finer points of participatory, sustainable development, the harsh reality is that inside Tibet, the Tibetans are about to lose their last chance to be participants in an economy, rather than victims of it. Is this Chinese-style development desirable? Absolutely not. Should the Tibetans have the right to decide how their land and their resources are developed? Absolutely so. What is more important now, however, is that the Tibetans actually survive. And now, their very survival is imminently endangered in the eastern regions of Tibet, where the Chinese government’s “development” machine is steamrolling right over them.
The only thing that will prevent the extinction of Tibetans as a distinct people is a massive effort to educate them. Without adequate education, Tibetans are doomed to subsistence living in one of the most unforgiving environments on the planet. Much as we glorify the traditional lifestyle of Tibet’s nomads, there is nothing romantic about living in a smoke-filled yak-hair tent for months at a time at 35 degrees below zero. Neither is their traditional lifestyle sustainable under current Chinese rule, unless you count merely getting by as an acceptable state of affairs. A good number of the children in Kham are malnourished. They suffer and die from illnesses that are easily preventable with basic hygiene and vaccinations. The young men spend considerable time drinking, gambling, or playing street-side pool. The young women resort to sex work to make a living. Their lives are neither happy nor comfortable, and there is no sign that the “development” going on in Kham and in other regions is going to change this.
If the Tibet support community wants to help Tibetans participate in development in a meaningful way, the single most important thing to do is to support efforts to educate Tibetans inside Tibet, so they have a fighting chance against the far more powerful and plentiful Chinese population. All of this must be done in subtle ways, by supporting the people and organizations already working there, so that the Chinese government isn’t tempted to curtail these efforts. If we fail to help the Tibetans inside improve their lives in ways that support their participation in economic development, gaining Tibet’s freedom will be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory.
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