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Report Urges China to Ease Degradation of Tibet's Environment - 2003-07-15

Tibet's self-described government in exile has released a new report calling on China to take what it calls a more enlightened approach to the region's environment. The report said China's agenda of massive development is harming Tibet's ecosystems.

Massive hydroelectric dams, railroads, and cities connected by super-highways. These are a few of what Tibetan environmentalist Tsering Yangkey calls China's "megaprojects."

"Large scale megaprojects, which not only, you know, harm the Tibetan people but, the Tibetan plateau," he said.

Ms. Yangkey is head of the Environment and Development Desk for the Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA, which describes itself as Tibet's government in exile, based in Dharamsala, India.

The CTA released a white paper this week documenting a sharp degradation in Tibet's environment over the past 50 years. It cites findings from the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and other institutions.

It warns China is on a path to destroying much of Tibet's natural beauty if it proceeds with plans to build hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure in Tibet, and to relocate millions of Chinese settlers to the region.

Ms. Yangkey said hyper-development is already a shock for many Tibetans. "We really do not have that culture in our mind … putting money value on everything. So it is difficult," she said.

The CTA report accuses China of endangering both environment and culture in its plans to build a $250 million dam at Megoe Lake, called Megucuo in Chinese. Ms. Yangkey said the dam will not only blemish a pristine site, but it will also have a harsh effect on the downstream environment.

"Many rivers that were fed by Megucuo for the last thousand years is going to be dried up, so it's truly a concern," she said.

Ms. Yangkey acknowledged that China spends tens of millions of dollars a year on environmental restoration projects in Tibet, but said those efforts are negated by construction projects. "Every yuan they're spending for environmental constructive projects they're spending 30 yuan more for environmental destructive projects so that's the situation right now in Tibet," she said.

The CTA report said while Tibet bears most of the cost of new infrastructure, benefits such as power generation are going out of Tibet, to places such as nearby Sichuan Province. The report calls on China to scale back the big projects and focus instead on small, community-based projects that help the Tibetan people.