Within the foothills of the Himalayas, the place the traditional Yarlung civilisation established the primary Tibetan Empire, China has plans to construct the world’s largest hydroelectric dam.
In November of final 12 months, China’s state-owned media shared plans for a 60-gigawatt mega-dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo river within the Tibetan Autonomous Area (TAR).
Now with the intention of attaining carbon neutrality by 2060, Beijing has redoubled its efforts on its hydropower initiatives in Tibet, despite the fact that the dams have drawn criticism from Tibetan rights teams and environmentalists.
Tenzin Dolmey has by no means stepped foot on the Tibetan Plateau, however she was introduced up with the tales of the nice rivers and mountains, which type her ancestral house.
“Respect for nature is so deep-rooted,” stated Dolmey, who was introduced up amongst Tibetan exiles in India and now teaches Tibetan language and tradition in Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest metropolis.
“Once we would swim within the rivers, we had been informed to by no means use it as a toilet, as a result of there are river gods within the water.”
The Yarlung Tsangpo is of specific significance, because it represents the physique of the goddess Dorje Phagmo, one of many highest incarnations in Tibetan tradition.
Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, the pinnacle of Surroundings and Growth on the Tibetan Coverage Institute, says this reverence for the pure world was born from the Tibetan Plateau’s distinctive panorama and dates again centuries.
However since China, managed by the Communist Occasion (CCP), annexed Tibet in 1950, Zamlha says Tibetans have misplaced all say in what occurs on their land.
“We had completely no dams earlier than Chinese language occupation, not as a result of we weren’t in a position to harness it, however as a result of we had immense respect for the character of the rivers,” he informed Al Jazeera.
“There’s a really strict custom that nobody will go close to sure streams or do something that might disturb it. You don’t even want legal guidelines – each Tibetan abides by it.
“The Chinese language will do something to profit their progress and that is very irritating as a result of Tibetans will not be consulted.”
World’s highest river
From its origin within the glaciers of western Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo reaches heights of almost 5,000 metres (16,404 ft) above sea degree, making it the very best river on the planet because it snakes its manner by way of the Himalayan mountain vary.
The river plunges 2,700 metres (8,858 ft) by way of what is called the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, forming a gorge greater than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in america.
The precipitous fall makes it significantly conducive to amassing hydroelectric energy however consultants have warned the record-breaking dam is prone to have political and environmental penalties.
In response to the Energy Development Corp of China’s chairman, Yan Zhiyong, the mega-dam’s has primarily been constructed to energy China’s inexperienced future.
Whereas China already has an extra of vitality, Brian Eyler, an skilled in rivers who’s the director of the South East Asia Program on the Stimson Middle, says the facility generated will in all probability be used to cowl losses because it makes the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner vitality.
The mega-dam might produce as a lot as thrice the hydroelectric energy of China’s present largest dam, the Three Gorges, a venture which compelled the relocation of greater than 1.4 million folks.
The areas surrounding the Yarlung Tsangpo are much less densely populated than the Yangtze River.
However there’s a precedent for the relocation of the native residents to make manner for dam initiatives on the Yarlung Tsangpo, with native media reporting almost 2,000 folks had been moved for the development of the Yagen Hydropower Station in 2015.
In response to the state-backed International Instances newspaper, the Yarlung Tsangpo dam might be in-built Medog County, which has a inhabitants of 14,000 folks.
Al Jazeera approached the Energy Development Corp of China for touch upon the quantity of people that might be affected by the Yarlung Tsangpo dam however didn’t obtain a reply.
Unfold throughout 2.5 million sq. kilometres (8.2 million sq. miles), the Tibetan Plateau is wealthy in pure assets and borders a number of different nations.
The freshwater runoff, which comes from melting glaciers and mountain springs, flows down by way of the Himalayan watershed and supplies ingesting water to an estimated 1.8 billion folks in nations together with China, India and Bhutan.
Zamlha believes Tibet’s assets such because the Yarlung Tsangpo and Mekong rivers had been a key issue within the CCP’s determination to take management of Tibet greater than 70 years in the past.
These geopolitical components had been introduced into sharp focus final 12 months following a dispute within the western Himalayas between India and China, by which 20 Indian troops and an unknown variety of Chinese language had been killed. It emerged final month that troopers had brawled once more alongside their shared border.
After leaving China, the Yarlung Tsangpo flows into Bangladesh and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the place the river is known as the Brahmaputra.
With the proposed mega-dam sited simply 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Indian border, Zamlha believes the CCP will “undoubtedly attempt to use it as a political device”.
A spokesperson for India’s ministry accountable for managing its water assets stated it could reply with a 10-gigawatt venture on one other tributary of the Brahmaputra.
Sensing the potential for battle, america has tried to prod the 2 sides into resource-sharing.
The Tibet Coverage and Help Act, lately signed into legislation by Congress, outlined a dedication to: “encourage a regional framework on water safety… to facilitate cooperative agreements amongst all riparian nations … on the Tibetan Plateau.”
Likewise, the Worldwide Water Programs Conference, adopted by the United Nations in 1997, applies sure rights and duties in relation to trans-boundary flows, though neither Bangladesh, India or China are signatories.
China has tried to allay these considerations. In a press release in December, Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese language International Ministry stated: “China will proceed to keep up communication with India and Bangladesh by way of present channels. There isn’t any want for the skin world to over-interpret it.”
Classes from the Mekong
Whereas the venture within the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon will definitely be the biggest, it’s not the one dam venture alongside the river.
A number of small- and medium-sized dams have already been constructed, in response to the Stimson Middle’s Eyler.
An authority on the Mekong River, he’s anxious the Yarlung Tsangpo might pave the way in which for the emergence of comparable initiatives.
Evaluation of latest knowledge on Chinese language dams has discovered “these operations have delivered deeper and deeper cuts to the downstream communities of the once-mighty Mekong river,” he stated.
He notes that the “zero coordination for working dams” has allowed China’s 11 Mekong dams to disrupt fish life and the circulate sediment and has immediately contributed to the collapse of river banks and the destruction of communities.
Whereas the specifics of China’s growth plans for the Yarlung Tsangpo stay blurry, Eyler says there are enormous dangers.
“Rivers are recognized to be hungry,” Eyler stated.
“So you’re taking that sediment out and that hungry river begins searching for new stuff, and it’s gonna pull it off of the banks and trigger the deltas to erode. It’s a pure course of brought on by one thing unnatural.”
By damming the Yarlung Tsangpo’s Grand Canyon, one other supply of Tibetan identification might be completely altered.
Tenzin Dolmey holds onto the hope that someday she is going to see Tibet for herself. However after residing 34 years away from her homeland, life as a Tibetan in exile has taught Dolmey to restrict her expectations.
“I at all times had this imaginative and prescient of the attractive capital of Lhasa,” she stated.
“However I do know it is going to be like nothing near my goals.”