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Tibet's environment campaign begins to pay off

2010-02-03 09:23 BJT

Nature more important than gold

"We will say no to any environment-damaging project, even if it yields gold," said Zhang Yongze, director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Environment Protection recently, echoing a promise made earlier by Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government. Full story >>


Tibet's environment campaign begins to pay off

LHASA, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- Wangdu is among the few nonconformists who wear a suit and tie to work every day in Tibet, where most others sport "North Face" or "Columbia".

A 40-something business executive in Xigaze, Wangdu feels more confident in front of his clients when he is spruced up.

"The climate in Xigaze has become milder these years and I don't need to polish my shoes three times a day," he says.

In his younger days, Wangdu often feared for his quality leather shoes and finely tailored clothes, some of which were not available locally.

"Xigaze's winter used to be so windy and dusty that I couldn't see the original color of my shoes when I was out for an hour or two," he says.

The winter on the Tibet Plateau is generally dry and windy. Lhasa, Xigaze and Shannan in southern Tibet are particularly prone to sandstorms.

Since the late 1990s, the regional government has waged an environment campaign to plant trees along major rivers, including Yarlung Zangbo.

The campaign has begun to pay off, says Zhang Yongze, head of the regional environmental protection department.

"Trees have fended off the wind and dust, and dusty weather is less frequent in Lhasa, Xigaze and Shannan," says Zhang.

Figures provided by the regional weather bureau show the number of sandy days in the three areas last year was 30 to 34 days fewer than the early 1980s.

Meanwhile, a 2009 survey found the average height of vegetation on the pastureland of northern Tibet had increased by nearly 2 centimeters.

"The grass was 7.64 cm tall on average last summer, compared with 5.72 cm in 2004," says Zhang. "It's amazing any plants grow at all on the traditionally infertile land of northern Tibet at an altitude of 4,500 meters."

He said the grass had been spared from cattle.

"Starting from 2005, we banned grazing on nearly 4 million hectares of grassland in 27 counties of seven cities," he says.

The residents get government subsidies for downsizing their herds, as well as job opportunities in environmental conservation projects near their homes, says Zhang.

Dradul, a farmer-turned-forestry worker in Zayul County of Nyingchi Prefecture, earned 14,000 yuan (2,060 U.S. dollars) last year by patrolling a nature reserve near his home and looking after the woods. "Before I took the job in 2005, my family of six made 3,400 yuan by toiling on the farm."

Dradul is among 80,000 forestry workers in Tibet. The regional environment protection bureau says their average annual wage was 5,625 yuan last year.

Meanwhile, the wide use of methane gas in rural Tibet has also improved the plateau environment and saved at least 1,000 yuan in coal and firewood for each family every year.

"For many generations, we burned cattle manure for cooking and heating. Its smell was suffocating," says Dradul, whose wife cooks with methane, piped to the stove from a methane pit in the backyard.

Methane pits, which are covered holes where waste can ferment and create usable gas, have provided clean energy and saved fuel for 114,000 Tibetan families, according to the regional government.

By the end of this year, the figure is expected to reach 200,000.

Editor: Du Xiaodan | Source: Xinhua