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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Urbanization threatens livelihoods and ecology in the Tibetan grasslands

August 15, 2016

Reuters, August 9, 2016 - Under a twinkling starlit sky, the glow of an electric light is the only sign that a Tibetan nomad's way of life has changed in hundreds of years.

Yaks are still milked using wooden buckets with rope handles, and the animal’s waste is dried and burned for fuel — a necessity at the high altitude where trees are scarce. But the number of Tibetans maintaining the pastoral lifestyle is dwindling, with the Chinese government pushing to decrease the Tibetan nomad population and move them into resettlement villages, sometimes by force.

Chinese authorities say urbanisation in Tibetan areas and elsewhere will increase industrialisation and economic development, offering former nomads higher living standards and better protecting the environment.

Since 2000, government statistics show that urban residents have leaped by more than half in the Tibet region itself, where officials launched a programme five years ago to establish Communist cadre teams in every locality.

In Qinghai province, much of which is ethnically Tibetan, the urbanisation rate has increased from 40 percent to nearly 50 percent in the past decade, but one Tibetan member of a Communist party committee in the area told AFP that the process was happening "too fast".

Those sentiments highlight the drastic changes since 1951, when Chinese forces occupied Tibet.

While some pastoralists maintain their traditional way of living, the new urban settlements are increasingly taking up land once used for livestock.

"Because of the villages we can't get enough grassland for our yaks," said Jargaringqin, a 31-year-old herder who lives in the mountains of Qinghai, in northwestern China. He spends the winter in a house while the summer is spent roaming across the grasslands in tents. Yaks give the family milk, butter and cheese and occasionally meat.

Environmental experts say grazing is essential to maintaining the ecology of the grasslands, and with fewer nomadic families more invasive plants are taking hold.

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