According to a report published on 20 July, 2018 by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), in Bayen Dzong of Tsoshar, Amdo, Chinese authorities are forcefully implementing a river diversion project of Chakchu (also known as Drampa) river. The predominantly farming communities in Traseng, Dro, Gonpo Gyu, Achok and Adhey villages that are dependent on the river are concerned that such project would cause water scarcity resulting in poor yield and no adequate water supply for their livestock and overall bring negative impacts on the local environment. This water diversion project also causes a destruction of farmland by making a series of canal where local authorities have failed to compensate.
Since the local people do not know where and why the river has been diverted, it is speculated that the river is either being diverted towards the dominant Hui (Chinese Muslim) community or to other development projects such as mines or dams. Therefore, there is a possibility of continued protests or water disputes between Tibetan and Hui people. So to avoid such conflict, it is the responsibility of the Chinese government to provide information, engage in inter-jurisdictional cooperation and take local concern into consideration before implementing such project.
Although, there is no reliable data on the number of inter-jurisdictional water disputes in this region, but the incidents seem to be continually increasing. On 1June 2017, a similar incident of water diversion happened in the very county where the Yitsa Zachu River flowing within the Shitsa village was diverted to Tharga Village, the resident of which are mostly Hui Muslim. This led to clash between villagers and police, leaving 20 Tibetan and 10 police injured and arrest of more than 40 Tibetans.
Two Possible Reasons for the Diversion
(a) Domestic hydro-politics
Due to China’s unique combination of both centralized and decentralized political systems Chinese officials are often caught in institutional matrix known as tiao-kuai . This matrix is intended to ensure that sub-national officials pursue priorities set by the central government, but also to provide them with the flexibility to implement these policies according to local circumstances. Beijing effectively controls the issues of strategic importance, whereas less important matters are dealt by sub-national actors.
In practical terms, this flexibility result in different application of specific policies, including those concerning water resources. Since most of the key government and party position in this area are held by the dominant Hui population in Bayen Dzong, there is a possibility of unfair preferential practices of diverting the water flowing inside Tibetan villages to Hui villages.
(b) Qinghai Water Resources Management Plan (2008-2030)
As per the report published by TCHRD, the water diversion project in Bayen Dzong was linked with the Qinghai Water Resources Management Plan. If that is the case, such incidents compel us to ponder the question about the viability of such project. This kind of projects often lead to the land acquisition and resettlement, so it is necessary for local people to be aware of such possibilities.
A brief on Qinghai Rural Water Resources Management Project
The Qinghai Rural Water Resources Management Project covers three State-identified poverty counties of Yadzi Dzong, Bayen Dzong and Chentsa Dzong. These three counties in Amdo province have agriculture as the major basic industry, but due to limited rainfall, agriculture relies mainly on the irrigation system. The present system relies on lift irrigation through pumping stations. Either because of defection in the water-lifting system or overburdened electricity bills, farmers’ yield a very poor crop or significant parts of the irrigable land remain unirrigated despite abundant water resource in the Yellow River. In order to resolve the problem, the Lijiaxia and Gongboxia irrigation schemes have been included into the Qinghai Provincial 11 Five-Year Water Resources Project Portfolio as key water conservancy projects.
The Lijiaxia irrigation scheme lies on northern and southern banks of the Yellow River mainstream, which flows through the territories of Bayen Dzong and Chentsa Dzong in Amdo Porvince. The Gongboxia irrigation scheme is located on either bank of the Yellow River, which flows through the territories of Yadzi Dzong and Bayen Dzong. Both the schemes take advantage of the high storage water levels of the two existing dams (Lijiaxia and Gongboxia Reservoirs) and the diverted water from the south and north agricultural irrigation channels from the dam to provide water resources for the agricultural development in the region, converting current lift irrigation into gravity irrigation.
Percentage of Tibetan population under this project
The Gongboxia North Canal Irrigation Scheme will include a population of 32,615, consisting mainly of ethnic minorities (91.6%), including 12,878 Hui people (39.5%), 13,829 Salar people (42.4%), 3,145 Tibetans (9.6%) and 2,763 Han people (8.4%). The Lijiaxia North Canal Irrigation Scheme involves 42 administrative villages in the two towns and one administrative committee, and will include a population of 36,834, consisting mainly of Hui people (93.45%), in which Tibetans account for 5.98%.
*Dechen Palmo is a research fellow at the Environment and Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.