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Tourist Garbage Chokes Tibet's Wetland


A child washing vegetables in the dirty river in Rebkong County

With geographical beauty, clean air, and what many Chinese consider an exotic culture, Tibet attracts millions of Chinese tourists each year. However, with that interest, comes a heavy ecological cost.

An article published by the official Chinese Tibetan language news website, China’s Tibet, earlier this month titled, “Garbage-Filled Lake Kokonor,” unveiled the magnitude of garbage problems around the lake Kokonor (also knowns as Qinghai Lake), the largest lake on the Tibetan Plateau.

The article revealed that hundreds of tons of garbage were dumped along the lake shore, which has been killing the domestic animals and polluting the lake and rivers.

“Following the National Day holiday and the tourists' departure, Lake Kokonor area has been covered by garbage, Both the land and sky in the area where local residents live are filled with garbage," said the article. It also mentioned that every time the wind blows, the plastics can be noticed flying everywhere. Some local nomads were quoted saying that their animals are dying as a result of this pollution. “The guts of the dead animals are filled with plastic.” The article further said that over 360 kilometers of wetland is now threatened from toxic garbage pollution.

The article, which first appeared in Chinese popular website, Sina on Oct. 8, has apparently received attention from the provincial authorities. Two days later, China’s Tibet website, the same website that had published the earlier article on October 9, reported that Qinghai Provincial party secretary sent over “10,000 soldiers and civilians to clean up the area and collected 270 tons of garbage in two days.”

However, according to an expert, the problem is rooted deeper in China’s environmental education system. Xia Shu, who has started recycling factories in some of China’s biggest cities, including Shanghai, has recently visited Tibetan Plateau. He tells VOA's Tibetan service that the government has not provided any information to tourists about environmental protection and how to manage their own garbage. “There is nothing, no habits, no signs or anything to encourage people or tell people that it is wrong (to leave garbage),” Xia says. He added that his group drove from the end to the source of Yellow River and saw garbage everywhere along the river. “I didn’t see that the government has done much, or the people have done much,” Xia said. “I think it is about education.”

According to the article in China’s Tibet, 5343 tourists visited the lake on China’s National Day on October 1, 2015. The report quotes a 50 year-old herdsman saying that the surrounding area of the lake used to be full of countless wetland, vegetation, and “colorful flowers that carpeted the earth” in the summer. “Now, it is very hard to find such a place,” said the report.

“We can’t do anything about it because we have no political authority,” said Palzang Tsering, a manager of Qinghai Lake Tourism Group, according to the article.

In 2013, the official Chinese report published on China’s Tibet said 3,400,000 tourists arrived in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) alone. As China often imposes restrictions to foreign tourists to visit Tibet, the majority of the tourists TAR and Tibetan areas, like Qinghai Lake, receive are from China.

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