High Peaks Pure Earth presents an English translation of a blogpost by Woeser written on March 30, 2013, and published on her blog on the same day.
The blogpost was written by Woeser in immediate response to the fatal landslide in Gyama Valley in central Tibet that engulfed a gold mining area. As mentioned in the blogpost, Woeser has long been monitoring mining activities in Tibet, particularly in this particular region. There are links in the blogpost to her previous articles.
To read the full article Woeser refers to – “Tibet’s Mining Menace” on China Dialogue, please follow this link: http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/4509-Tibet-s-mining-menace- For those interested in environmental issues related to Tibet, the Tibetan Plateau blog is a crucial resource and has also monitored Gyama mining in the past.
Landslide Induced by Frenzied Mining at Hometown of Songtsen Gampo is said to be a “Natural Disaster” By Woeser
Yesterday, China’s official media such as CCTV and Xinhua News Agency reported that at around 6 in the morning of March 29, a landslide took place at Gyama mine, operated by China Gold Group’s Huatailong Co., between Purang Valley and Mount Zeri, in Zibug Village, Trashigang Township, Meldro Gungkar County, Lhasa, TAR. The landslide covered an area of about 3 km, and carried roughly 2.6 million cubic yards of mud, rock and debris. According to initial figure, 83 workers (2 Tibetan, all the rest Chinese, mostly from Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan) were buried.
The cause of the landslide, as state media reported, was that: it was a “natural landslide” triggered by “natural disaster”. Was that really so? What sort of “natural disaster” took place there? And was that landslide a natural one?
Since 2007, I started paying attention to the mining activities at Gyama and nearby townships in Meldro Gungkar County, Lhasa, and wrote several articles which contained photographs I took myself or those by the locals there:
“A Story of Mining in Tibet” http://map.woeser.com/?action=show&id=89
“Shattered Mountains and Rivers of Tibet” http://map.woeser.com/?action=show&id=297
Tibet’s Water Pollution and China’s “Global Warming” http://highpeakspureearth.com/2009/tibets-water-pollution-and-chinas-global-warming-by-woeser/
“Songtsen Gampo’s Hometown Is About To Be Completely Excavated” http://highpeakspureearth.com/2010/songtsen-gampos-hometown-is-about-to-be-completely-excavated-by-woeser/
Indeed, Gyama Township, situated in Meldro Gungkar County, adjacent to Lhasa, is the hometown of Songtsen Gampo, the great Emperor of Tibet. I stressed in my article that: “In Chinese culture, the birthplace of all former dynasties’ emperors is considered to be the treasured place of “fengshui”, referred to as “dragon’s pulse”. Only occasionally dynastic changes destroyed the “dragon’s pulse” of a former emperor, but normally it would be meticulously protected and regularly sacrificed to seek protection and luck. According to this, Gyama, with its many sacred and beautiful places, is where the “dragon’s pulse” exists in Tibet and it should never have to endure such disembowelling hardship as it does today.”
However, what happened was that a few years ago at Gyama and nearby areas, at least 6 private mines were in frenzied operation, causing destruction to the local ecology, and affected the livelihood of the locals. From 2007 onward, China Gold, a central enterprise with state funding, became the new owner of Gyama mine.
Having consolidated smaller mines under its umbrella, China Gold set its subsidiary, Huatailong Mining Company, as the operator of the mine.
With a daily extraction volume of 12,000 tonnes, Gyama mine is currently an underground mining operation with the largest processing capacity per day on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Frenzied mining contaminated water in the area, causing death in livestock and sickness among herders, who were relocated. And now there has been a landslide over a large area! Throughout the years there were many petitions by local farmers and herders; there were also clashes that resulted from mines expropriating water from farmers and herders. The authorities politicized such petitions and clashes, accusing the locals of inciting separatism, and dispatched riot police and armed police to arrest them. To this day one of the village chiefs is still incarcerated.
In September 2011, China Dialogue published “Tibet’s mining menace”, an article that recounted situation at Gyama as follows:
Gyama mine, controlled by Vancouver-based China Gold, is already operational and, located just upstream of Lhasa, poses a threat to the purity of the water in Tibet’s most sacred city. Like most of Tibet, the area is seismically unstable, vulnerable to earthquakes. A study of water quality below the Gyama mine carried out in 2010 revealed that “elevated concentrations of heavy metals in the surface water and streambed at the upper/middle part of the valley pose a considerably high risk to the local environment…and to downstream water users. Environmental changes such as global warming or increased mining activity may increase the mobility of these pools of heavy metals.”
Local Tibetans have protested and sent a petition to Chinese authorities demanding the closure of the mine. The mining operation has reportedly dried up spring waters, poisoned drinking water, killed 1,000 domestic animals and destroyed flora and fauna in the region. Despite this, in August 2011, China Gold announced that it had boosted the resources of the mine by over 400% and will proceed with a major expansion of the project.
The Gyama mine has already operated for many years on a smaller scale, under various owners who lacked capital to invest in sufficient health and safety practices. Of particular concern for human health, especially for the growing brains of the children of Lhasa, is the lead content of the Gyama deposit, which will not be recovered, and so lie forever in waste dumps below the mine.
But this is the first highly profitable project in Tibet, both for the mining company, which will have sales of 45.6 billion yuan (US$7.2 billion) over the mine’s life, and for China’s central government, which will earn 4.9 billion yuan (US$767 million) in revenue from taxes. These figures are based on 2010 copper and gold prices. If mid-2011 prices are used, profit will be a lot higher.
Regarding the Lhasa mining accident yesterday (mining accident in Lhasa, I’m dumbfounded!), there were quite a few discussion threads on Sina Weibo. They were rapidly deleted or hidden from view.
Clearly, Sina Weibo has received instructions from higher authorities, which prohibited discussion of the massive collapse at a mountain adjacent to Lhasa, triggered by the frenzied mining operation of a central enterprise.
My 20-30 posts about environmental destruction in Lhasa and other Tibetan regions caused by mining in Weibo were all “encrypted”, which was tantamount to deletion or concealment. However, before that happened, I made a copy of each of the entries (including some responses), some of which are as follows:
“There was excessive excavation on the slope, and no geological disaster monitoring and early warning has been carried out”
“I’ve been to this mine before, and I knew some of those who work there. I have a fairly good understanding of what things are like inside. Judging from the image, it is the tailings that have collapsed. They said workers are trapped, I guess there probably won’t be any signs of life. Pray! China Gold, Huatailong, Tibet Mining, Zhongkai, Zhongsheng, Huayu and others major mining companies in Tibet should wake up now!”
“Tibet is the region with the most abundant mineral resources in China, how would the government not exploit this treasure trove? The incident took place in the morning, how come even [people in] Lhasa didn’t know about it until after 4 pm? Was it because the incident was too massive that they really had no way but to disclose what happened? The site of the incident lies more than 90 km away from Lhasa. Could I ask how much rescue time has been wasted by this delay?”
“It wasn’t a landslide but a collapse. The mountain has been hollowed; a collapse is bound to happen.”
“It was the place I lived in since I was little. But now the mountains there have been excavated beyond recognition. The extraction has been so excessive that, so that…”
“The site of the collapse is a new mine of Huatailong. It is situated at Zibug Village, a conjunction of Gyama Township and Trashigang Township. Not long ago, the company had bulldozed the mountain top of the site of collapse. Now the custodian deity of the mountain is awakened.”
“On my way to the TAR I saw signposts of China Gold; I also saw the mountains defaced by the mining activities.”
“It was truly horrible yesterday. All kinds of vehicles passed through. Militia in our Dagzê County had gone there as back up. However, I feel…this is karma.”
“There was no heavy rainfall; no earthquake-induced landslide; and judging from the image, it should be a collapse at the tailings.”
The following 22 photographs are all taken by Tibetans in 2011 at precisely Gyama mine, Meldro Gungkar County, Lhasa. They showed the frenzied mining of Huatailong, China Gold’s subsidiary, and the appalling sight of the defaced landscape and contaminated mountains and rivers:
China Gold Group: http://www.chinagoldgroup.com/index.html
This post is also available in: English