Settlement vs. Resettlement

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Some people responded to my last blog post with more information that I want to share with readers.

1. There are many kinds of housing projects that are being built for herders and farmers on the Tibetan Plateau. So unless someone cross-checks the numbers on the ground, it is difficult to figure out exactly how many herders have been resettled.

2. A couple of friends (Thanks again!) brought to my attention that the Reuters article discussed in my previous blog post talks about 'settlement' (ding ju) of herders, which is different from 'resettlement' (yi min) of herders. Settlement likely means simply building permanent houses at the winter pastures where villagers live -- which is not in any way as serious as "resettlement" or "ecological migration" where herders are removed to new areas as in the case of the Three Rivers Headwaters Nature Reserve.

4. Speaking of 'ecological migration,' What happens to all the yaks when the nomads are forced to resettle? It seems like many sell the animals as they are suppose to do, while others leave their yaks with relatives for keeps. I don't have any credible or interesting story about the fate of these animals. Please share any information you may have on this issue.

3. Some housing projects are simply replacing traditional mud houses with houses made of bricks. This project is more prevalent in Tibet Autonomous Region, where, in total, 860,000 farmers and herders from 170,000 families have moved into the new houses by the end of 2008. According to this Xinhua article , "another 312,000 farmers and herders from 57,800 families moved from shanty homes into new solid brick houses in Tibet [Autonomous Region] this year under a government-subsidized housing project aimed at improving living conditions."

As much as I think this is a tragedy in terms of losing traditional architecture (its cheaper, locally more suitable, environmentally more sustainable, better insulation for Tibet's cold winter, aesthetically more beautiful, etc, etc.), these brick houses are popular among Tibetans. I have seen this trend among Tibetan Buddhist farmers of Ladakh and in Spiti Valley in India. While many of these farmers tend to prefer houses made of bricks with corrugated tin roof as modern and reject their traditional mud houses as pre-modern, many local leaders are clearly concerned about implication of these changes.

[Traditional Tibetan architecture in the Western Himalayas. Photo: Tashi Tsering]

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