The Price of Development: Tibet’s Lhasa River Turns Undrinkable

August 23, 2005 Updated: August 25, 2015

SINGAPORE – Many experts suspect that the recent outbreak of bird flu and its surrounding regions is due to pollution caused by China’s efforts to develop the region.

According to Singapore’s Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao, although the Chinese government regards the building of the Lhasa River Bridge as a constructive means to modernize Tibet, many Tibetans think otherwise. Nyima Cering, deputy director of the management committee of the Jokhang monastery, says that the current rail project has rendered the water of the Lhasa River undrinkable.

In order to strengthen control over Tibet, the Chinese government decided to accelerate the completion of the Qingzang Railroad expected to be operational in January 2007. The government claimed that the rail link would be a powerful tool to save Tibet’s backward economy.

It seems that the Chinese government is primarily interested in reaping economic benefits from the project. According to Xu Jianchang, deputy director of the development and reform commission for Tibet, unique resources such as “the magic water of Tibet” (mineral water) can be exported to mainland China at reduced transportation costs. He said, “We will be confident of developing the region once the rail line becomes operational.”

Although the Chinese government claims that it is helping Tibet develop, local Tibetans think otherwise. Lama Nyima Cering said, “If karma becomes too great, disasters can happen, and money, no matter how much people have, won’t be of help then.”

Nyima Cering recalled that when he first arrived in Lhasa 21 years ago, there were no high-rise buildings. Even though living conditions were not that good, at least the water of the Lhasa River was potable. But according to residents, this is not the case now.

Nyima Cering stressed that despite the conveniences of modernization, if people continue to damage the environment and fight over how to make money, then the state of things in Tibet today cannot be considered a positive development.