World Water Day: China’s damming of rivers in Tibet continues to violate the water rights of the downstream countries

A huge dam being built on Mekong River in Tibet


DHARAMSHALA, March 22: The Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) Tibet Museum today observed the World Water Day in Dharamshala by featuring a talk on ‘Why Tibet Matters’ by Michael Buckley, a Tibet specialist writer and researcher.

Talking about the significance of Tibet as the ‘third pole,’ he said as the source of about half a dozen rivers flowing through ten countries downstream, the rampant damming of Tibet’s rivers for hydroelectricity by Chinese government poses serious threats to the water rights of 1.4 billion people downstream.

World Water Day is an annual UN observance day that highlights the importance and sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme ‘Leaving no one behind’, an adaptation of the 6th goal of “Clean water and sanitation,” aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

In 2010, the UN recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right.”

As of today, the largest dam in the world is China’s Three Gorges Dam, a hydroelectric gravity dam with an installed capacity of 22 GW.

According to the UN World Water Development Report (UNWWDR) 2019 launched on March 19 at Geneva in the framework of the Human Rights Council, “Over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.”

Damming, mining and continuous use of fossil fuel are some of the major reasons causing pollution and scarcity of fresh natural water.

Buckley said the completion of Golmud-Lhasa railroad in 2006 had accelerated the resource extraction and damming in Tibet as it made everything economically viable with the sudden reduced cost of transferring labors and resources. This had led to the desecration and contamination of sacred lakes and rivers in Tibet causing scarcity and usage problem in the downstream countries.

In the book Meltdown in Tibet, Buckley wrote, “China exports its mega-dam engineering expertise and financial backing to impoverished nations in Asia, Africa and elsewhere – initiating projects with very little impact assessment if any.”

It also says that of the estimated to be over 50,000 large dams worldwide, over 23,000 large dams are under operation in China today.

The State of the World’s Water Resources section of the UNWWDR says that due to ever-rising levels of local water stress, combined with the fact that there are 286 international rivers and 592 transboundary aquifers shared by 153 countries, it could be expected that water-related conflicts have been increasing and/or are likely to increase in the future.”

According to Buckley, the depletion of sediments in the Mekong River due to heavy damming in Tibet by China is affecting downstream countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The depletion of deltas at the tail end of the river has caused coastal houses to sink in Vietnam and rice plantation to suffer heavily. “But given China’s political and economic hold on all these countries, it is only Vietnam that is fighting China.

In Asia and the Pacific section of the report, “In 2016, 29 out of 48 countries in the region qualified as water-insecure due to low availability of water and unsustainable groundwater withdrawal.”

Groundwater in northern and eastern India is undergoing severe depletion as measured by satellite data between 2002 and 2016, mainly due to intense extraction for crop irrigation triggered by the green revolution that started in the early ‘60s.

The President of India took to Twitter today to urge fellow citizens towards conservation and sustainable management of water and said access to water is “a byword for human dignity and we owe it to our future generations.”