NEW DELHI (Reuters) - China’s “irresponsible and reckless” development activities in Tibet have had a devastating impact on the Himalayas — threatening glaciers, rivers and the lives of millions of people, an activist said on Friday.
“Over the years, China has degraded forests, diverted rivers, built roads and numerous reservoirs and hydropower projects,” Tenzin Tsultrim, head of the environment desk for the Tibetan government-in-exile, told a conference in New Delhi.
“This has led to increased recession of glaciers, desertification and soil erosion, loss of flora and fauna, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, droughts and floods as well as landslides.”
The conference was organized by the Tibetan Parliamentary and Policy Research Centre, which aims to promote the political agenda of the exiled Tibetan government, and brought together environmentalists as well as supporters of the Tibetan cause.
India recognizes Tibet as part of China but gives asylum to around 120,000 Tibetans including the exiled Tibetan government and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan plateau, which has an area of 2.5 million sq km (965,255 sq miles), is the highest plateau in the world with over 46,000 glaciers.
Known as the “Roof of the World”, it is the source of several major rivers in Asia including the Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Indus, Karnali and Mekong, and over one billion people rely on the water which originates from glaciers.
Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 and over the ensuing decades Beijing has sought to impose its own stamp on traditional Tibetan society, closing monasteries and restricting religious life.
China’s recent announcement to improve the road to Mount Everest which lies on the Tibet side in time for the 2008 Olympics, was also of concern, an environmentalist told the conference.
“This is a frightening prospect as it will bring more tourists, hotels and restaurants at the base camp, litter, more vehicles which will have direct impacts on the fragile mountain ecology,” said Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glaciologist.
“Billions of people in so many countries rely on water from these glaciers and we must value the ‘Roof of the World’ because if we don’t, we will all be homeless.”
China has started improving the road to Mount Everest on the Tibet side to make the trip to the world’s highest mountain easier for bearers of the Olympic flame, Xinhua news agency reported earlier this month.
The 150 million yuan ($19.66 million) project will involve blacktopping an existing 108-km (67-mile) unpaved road up to the foot of the mountain, and will take four months to build.
The torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Games has been touted by organizers as the longest in Olympic history.
The inclusion of Tibet has proved controversial. In April, China deported five American tourists after they demonstrated for a free Tibet and protested against the Games at the base of Mount Everest.