Chinese mining operations are damaging the environment in a county outside Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, destroying farmers’ fields and forcing herders to move away from traditional grazing areas, Tibetan sources say.
Citing local sources, an exile-based Tibetan described the impact on local forests, grassland, and drinking water as “severe.”
“Waste from the mines has been dumped in the local river, and mining activities have polluted the air,” the source told RFA’s Tibetan service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Pollution has hampered the growth of grass in the area, and many animals have died of hunger,” the source said.
“Many fields located at a distance of seven to eight kilometers [about four to five miles] from the mine have dried up, and crops cannot be grown.”
“As a result, Tibetans living in the area have been forced to move in search of better grazing sites,” he said.
Work on the mine, located near Dun village in the Khartse township of Lhundrub (in Chinese, Linzhou) county, began in 2005, the source said.
Chinese miners are said to be extracting “white gold” from the site, and local Tibetans have observed as many as 10 trucks moving materials each day from a blue-roofed building set up at the mine in 2006.
“Many years have passed since then,” the source said.
Local Tibetans have appealed both to local and to higher authorities to address their concerns, with one letter in 2006 calling the grassland “an important source of livelihood for 3,000 Tibetan residents and needed for the support of over 20,000 head of cattle.”
“[In addition], different species of wild animals and birds that were abundant in the area have been driven away by the frequent use of explosives and other kinds of demolition,” the letter said.
“But the officials refused to speak with them,” RFA’s source said.
“Instead, the authorities have accused them of engaging in ‘politically motivated’ activities and have threatened them with unspecified consequences if they continue to complain.”
Of the 10,000 miners believed by locals to be working at the mine, only three are known to be Tibetans, he said, adding, “The Chinese workers were all brought in from the mainland.”
“Work starts each year in March and goes on for the whole year, except for a few months during the winter,” he said.
Mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth.
In August 2012, Tibetan nomads drove Chinese gold miners away from a sacred mountain in China’s Qinghai province, vowing to give up their lives if necessary to protect the site, the abode of a local god, according to Tibetan sources.
In the same month, Chinese security forces shot dead a Tibetan and detained six others as they dispersed a crowd of 1,000 Tibetans protesting the resumption of mining operations in Markham county in Tibet.
Chinese official media reported in 2011 that investment in the exploration of mineral resources in the Tibet Autonomous Region will be accelerated over a five-year period.
Tibet has large proven and potential reserves of vital deposits, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Initial studies show that the Tibet Autonomous Region has China’s largest chromium and copper reserves, while most of its iron, gold, silver, potassium, oil, and natural gas reserves remain unexplored, the report said.
Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.