Official Chinese statistics acknowledged one million Tibetan nomads had been forced from their land by 2009; the reality is that the numbers are many thousands more and that forced resettlement continues. Nomads are being resettled into purpose-built concrete housing, often in remote locations without adequate schools or health clinics and with few if any employment opportunities as a result of China’s policy of tuimu huancao (removing animals to grow grass). The UN report critiques the basis of tuimu huancao, saying it “puts much more emphasis on the role of overgrazing than do the internationally accepted standards in grasslands science.”
The Chinese government claims that they are moving the nomads because nomadic grazing practices damage the Tibetan plateau’s environment. China has, however, ratified the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity which acknowledges the importance of indigenous communities as guarantors and protectors of biodiversity. Recent scientific research confirms that Tibetan nomadic practices maintain biodiversity on the plateau and keep the grasslands strong and healthy. Research also demonstrates how Chinese government mining, damming, logging and agricultural policies over many decades have devastated the ecology of the plateau.
Over one billion people across Asia rely on water that flows from the Tibetan plateau, which is known as the third pole because it holds the world’s third largest store of water after North and South poles. The ecology of the plateau is of vital significance to the environment and people of China, Asia and the world.
Tibetan nomads are often not appropriately consulted prior to resettlement, and are left without livestock – their main means to make a living – and without the services promised to them by the Chinese government. China also cancels nomads’ land leases, leaving them little prospect of ever returning to their land. The cumulative effect of displacement and dispossession leaves many forcibly resettled Tibetan nomads living in poverty with some resorting to alcohol or drug misuse. In some cases those who have protested official policy have been arrested and sentenced to long jail terms.