The impact of climate change on the Tibetan plateau is apparent with unusual scale of torrential rainfall reported across Tibet. The drastic climatic shift has resulted in high frequency of floods and landslides occurring simultaneously in various part of Tibet as we write.
The scale and frequency of natural disasters in year 2018 has been as severe as it has been in the last two years. Waterlogged homes and flooded summer pastures in different parts of Amdo is a worrying sight and an alarming trend. Following are the list of ongoing floods in Tibet:
- July 10, 2018 – More than 19 townships, 101 villages and 9122 families were affected by floods in Drukchu Dzong (kanlho Prefecture, Gansu) in eastern Amdo due to heavy rainfall.
- July 10, 2018 – Flood like situations continue in different parts of Central Tibet. Massive landslides in Ringpu Dzong blocked Highway 318, surging river in Sakya Dzong threatened the ancient Sakya monastery, and the Lhasa Kyichu has risen at a dangerous level.
- July 11, 2018 – Landslides and mudslides in Powo Dzong blocked Chengdu-Lhasa highway.
- July 12, 2018 – An unusual scene of water-logging were seen inside homes in Tongkor Dzong near Siling City due to heavy rainfall.
- July 14, 2018 – A threat from surging river, due to heavy rainfall, is reported from Rabgya area of Machen County in Amdo.
- July 14, 2018 – Monks from Zoige Taktsa Gompa and Muge Gompa were seen helping locals with rescue efforts during the floods in the region.
- July 15, 2018 – Landslides were reported due to heavy rainfall in Zamthang Dzong in Ngawa region of Tibet.
- July 15, 2018 – A brave Tibetan policeman rescued a local resident who was washed away by the surging Nyung River in Shigatze.
- July 17, 2018 – Unusual (summer) heavy snowfall was reported in the Gormo region of northern Tibet.
A rare case of floods over a vast area of a summer pasture site has put Tibetan nomads and their tents inundated in many regions of Ngawa in Amdo.
Ever since 2016, Tibet has seen unprecedented number of floods, landslides, and mudslides due to rising temperature and increasing rainfall. For the first time in 2016, a new trend of simultaneous landslides, mudslides and floods were reported from different parts of Amdo. The extent of natural disasters has been much more severe in the following year (2017) with massive floods in many parts of Kham.
The once cold and arid plateau is undergoing a massive climatic shift with warming rate of 0.3°C per decade, which is twice more than the global average. According to a scientific paper on the climatic shift in Tibet from 1961 -2015, published by a group of Chinese scientists (April 25, 2017), they have cited continuous rise in both temperature and precipitation for the last 50 years. The paper also stated that the years 1962-1985 and 1991-1998 were dry periods, while the years 1985-1991 and 1998-2000 were periods of more rainfall. The research was based on data from hundreds of meteorological stations spread across the plateau. The researchers found that places like Dartsedo, Nyarong, Lithang, Tsethang, Delingkha and Dulan experienced maximum increase in precipitation, while Sershul, Chigdril and Shigatze recorded the largest decrease in rainfall.
As per our understanding, a) climate change and rising temperature, b) rapid urbanization and excessive construction works, c) topographic features and location of towns and villages, d) poor construction materials or traditional homes not suitable for the new climatic reality, e) lack climate change awareness programs to adapt to the new climatic pattern and mitigate the impacts are the five primary causes of increasing natural disasters in Tibet. We have been focusing on these issues by highlighting the situation through talks, articles and short video films in hope of making the Chinese government aware of the dire situation and to take necessary measures to mitigate the impact. We also launched a six-minute video on the subject recently to assist Tibetans both in exile and in Tibet, to understand the causes of the increasing natural disasters in Tibet.
The change is inevitable, hence we have to adapt to the rapidly changing climatic pattern on the Tibetan Plateau and must take necessary measures to mitigate the impact of the new climatic reality. Beyond the numerous threats, the rising temperature and increased rainfall on the (once) arid plateau also has positive benefits that we must harness. An extensive tree plantation drive across Tibet is urgently needed to prevent further floods, landslides, desertification and rising temperature. Such initiative is ideal at the moment as the increased precipitation on the plateau will support growth of trees where previously not possible.
*Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen is the head of the Environmental and the Development Desk of the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.