Derailing tradition

Published: Monday 30 September 2002

Railroad to hit nomads hardest China is set to ride roughshod over the conventional life of the indigenous people of northern Tibet with its 1,140-kilometre railroad project. The tracks, meant to link Lhasa to Golmud, threaten to alter the physical and cultural landscape of the Tibetan plateau. Further, the nomads may be deprived of their livelihood of grazing cattle.

Environmentalists point out that the tracks will cut through Nakchu prefecture -- a vast swathe of grassland, lakes and mountains spread over 420,000 square kilometres. The region is home to the rare black crane, Tibetan antelope and wild horses. Another fallout from the project: 25 new townships along the railroad that will put pressure on the fragile ecosystem of the area.

Though Chinese officials claim that the us $2.4 billion railway venture would create employment opportunities for nomads, Tibetan activists feel that Chinese labourers will get the lion's share of the jobs. They aver that even if the authorities keep their promise, herders will abandon the animal husbandry practised on the plateau and enter new industries during the construction of the railway.

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