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Scarred landscapes, piles of rubble and polluted waters... how illegal mining left a trail of devastation across a nature reserve on the Tibetan plateau

September 4, 2017

South China Morning Post, August 30, 2017 - A visit to the area by a reporter for The Beijing News earlier this month found evidence of large-scale environmental damage to the scenic area on the Tibetan Plateau, which is home to the sources of the Yangtze, Mekong and Yellow Rivers.

Photographs showed a landscape ravaged by illegal coal and iron mining, with dirty polluted water and open-pit mines hacked into the surrounding mountainsides.

The reporter visited three illegal mines in Yushu County, a mostly rural, sparsely populated area of Qinghai Province.

At Zhasu coal mine, rubble from explosions littered the area with much of the surrounding alpine vegetation destroyed.

Another nearby coal mine, also abandoned, had mining waste and coal slag residue piled up metres high without being disposed of safely.

Daha coal mine, 38 kilometres away, was found to have miners’ dormitories nearby that were kept in perfect order – a stark contrast to the heaps of industrial waste and sewage that were left untreated outside.

Tens of thousands of tonnes of coal were left exposed to the sun instead of being stored properly, creating a risk of spontaneous combustion.

Beijing launched a nationwide inspection of coal mines earlier this year as part of its crackdown on illegal coal mining due to fears of oversupply, according to Reuters.

“We will completely shut down coal mines that have produced more coal than the government has allowed,” the State Administration of Work Safety was quoted as saying in the report.

“Some of the coal mines repeatedly ignored warnings from us and continued to dig in regions that are deemed unsafe.”

This year, the government plans to shut down “at least 500” coal mines as the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal begins to switch to alternative sources of energy, according to a National Energy Administration announcement in February.

The serious environmental damage caused by mining includes soil erosion, the formation of sinkholes and water and land pollution on a vast scale.

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