Monitoring development and sharing information through Google Earth

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A friend forwarded this news story to me. About 3000-4000 Tibetans will have to leave their ancestral homes and villages to make way for a hydro-power project near Lhasa's Lhundrup county in a place called Phondo (ཕོད་མདོ་). Most of these people are agro-pastoralists. The farmers have been ordered to leave their homes by next year and that they cannot practice their traditional livelihood there any more. Farmers are worried that they will be forced to sell their animals and relocated to separate areas. Their requests for better relocation plans have been ignored. According to the report, all of the construction workers that have moved into the region are Chinese and there are a few thousand soldiers now stationed at the site.

This project is documented in our last map of Hydropower Projects on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) river. This is only one of the many, many dams that will be built on the Tibetan Plateau. Tens of thousands more will be forcefully displaced from their homes to make way for these projects. What makes this situation really gloomy is that this news story, for example, did not come to the attention of most Tibetan internet users and Tibetan rights activists sooner. In the past we could blame lack of information and news from Tibet for our ignorance, but today we have such amazing technological tools as Google Earth at our disposal that can be effectively used for our information-sharing and advocacy work. Here's an example:

Someone has posted these some colorful still shots from what seems like a video clip on Google Earth:

These pictures, including some of the construction equipment, were probably taken by tourists visiting the area. All of these photos are from Google Earth:

Check out the comment posted by one of the visitors to the site:

Check out these Google Earth images of the area. The first two annotated images are from my colleagues at the Central Tibetan Administration's Environment and Development Desk. The remaining images, some of them are from November 8, 2008 and some of them are as recent as March 13, 2010. These images clearly show the villages and the fields, which will be inundated by the reservoir or developed beyond recognition. If only someone would archive all of these Google Earth images of Tibetan villages and pastoral lands before they are developed and their images updated on Google Earth.

If you would like to read some Tibetan language news from China, see this, this, this. You can get these news stories by doing a google search of "ཕོད་མདོ་" (phod mdo or Phondo).


Anonymous said...

I'm writing to the Chinese government to leave Tibet or face huge boycotts here in the US of all things Chinese,,,
It will be tough to do but Im starting now and I'm going to plaster requests all over my social networks to do the same. Write your president and tell him to sanction China based on human rights violations- what the Chinese are doing is genocide.

James said...

If you want to look ahead 10 years without using Google Earth you can see an artistic impression of the dam in the year 2020 here:

Click at the picture and you will see a larger view.

Regarding the name Phondo (Pangduo in Chinese): The town was called Phodo Dzong or Pongo Dzong in earlier English publications. The reason for building this dam is not so much to generate electricity with the 120 MW turbines but as a water reservoir for the Lhasa water supply and for regulating the water flowing in direction of Lhasa. The construction of the dam is planned to be finished in 2016 and the reservoir should be filled by 2020.

Anonymous said...

The Phondo dam has been closed Oct 26, 2011. See the photos here:

The Tibetan Plateau Blog said...

Thank you James. Thank you Anonymous contributor.