Daniel Allen in Asia Times Online has written a thorough story on the 1,100 kilometers of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the impact it is having on the Tibetan economy. Government sources report that Tibet’s trade turnover jumped more than 18% to $140 million in the first 11 months of 2006, resulting in a threefold increase in the region’s trade surplus over 2005.
Newly prospected mineral deposits have turned Xizang, as Tibet is called in Mandarin, into an important asset for the country. According to Xinhua, production output could surpass RMB10 billion($1.25 billion) and account for one-third of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) within five to 10 years.
This year construction work will begin on 21 highway projects and nine other major roads in Tibet, while the highway to the neighboring Himalayan country of Nepal will simultaneously be upgraded. And, according to Xinhua, work on a three-year rail project connecting Lhasa with Shigatse, Tibet’s second city near the Nepalese border, will begin next year.
In 2006 Tibet received more than 2.6 million tourists, up 44% on 2005, with tourist revenue surging 45% to RMB2.8 billion ($350 million). The Chinese government is projecting that this figure will exceed RMB5 billion ($700 million) a year by 2010,
Among the Tibetan discoveries is China’s first sizable iron deposit, a seam called Nyixung. It is estimated to contain as much as 500 million tons, which would be enough to put 20% of Chinese iron importers out of business. Estimated reserves of 760 million tons of high-grade iron ore have also been found in the Kunlun Mountains on the western Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and in southern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
In copper three new Tibetan finds have increased China’s total copper reserves by a third. Once production comes online they will decrease imports by the same amount.
The story did not run the following information but it is important:
To the surprise of many observers, China went to great lengths to minimize the environmental impact of its new Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest railway in the world. Nearly 6% of the budget went towards ecosystem restoration and environmental protection.
Workers replanted large areas of grassland vegetation and its root soil layer and built a network of tunnels to avoid disrupting seasonal migration of animals including the endangered Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii).
Planners detoured the tracks around ecologically sensitive areas like wetlands when possible and used bridges when no other option was available. Engineers insulated the tracks and installed temperature-reducing facilities to avoid destabilizing permafrost in frozen areas. All water is recycled to avoid contamination of surrounding natural water systems and stations are equipped with water treatment facilities. The government established five protected areas along the route and plans six more.
Given these measures, ‘the most serious environmental problems created by the [Qinghai-Tibet Railway], including garbage disposal, water treatment, and ecotourism, will only become apparent in the long run.’
CITATION: Changhui Peng, Hua Ouyang, Qiong Gao, Yuan Jiang, Feng Zhang, Jun Li, Qiang Yu (2007). Building a “Green” Railway in China. “Science Express” Thursday 26 April 2007 quoted in Mongabay. Main source: Asia Times Online.
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