Thursday, August 12, 2010


by Tenzin Lekshay, 12 August 2010

On 08 August, a disastrous landslide triggered by rain in Drugchu Dzong, (Zhougu) near Lhabrang Tashi Kyil of Amdo's Kanlho Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province killed more than a thousand with plus 600 missing beneath the rubbles and solid muds. Chinese President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao visited the spot to condole and inspect the disaster swamped by this killer landslide. Even the exile Tibetan Government based in Dharamshala sent their condolences and grievances to the bereaved surviving members and had hold a special prayer sessions for the departed souls.

Everyday, we get some updates about the death tolls and the casualties but we did not really look at the causes of this deadly landslide. Neither we know whether such kind of landslides will occur in the future. It is critical to understand the hidden reality of what is exactly happening inside Tibet, since more and more of calamities and disasters happen incessantly one after another. When the wounds of recent Kyegudo earthquake heals silently, Tibet was shocked by yet another debacle.

To get a clear picture of this landslide, we need to dwell into its cause and effect; i.e. its historical and geographical background, and the governmental policies and roles. Otherwise, with no knowledge of what is happening in Tibet, we might cry and accuse mother nature for causing a collosal damages inside Tibet.

Background of Drugchu Dzong:

Drugchu Dzong in Kanlho Tibet Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province is the eastern tip of Tibetan county in China, located at 104.5 degree E longitude. it is elivated at the height of 2,500-3,500 meters, covering over 2,983 square kilometers. Chinese political administrative boundaries recognized it as within a Tibetan periphery when they created the boundaries in 1949. But historically, Tibetan settlements extend further north beyond Minzian and south towards Wenxian until the end of Mongol era. Drugchu Dzong is demarcated by Minshan range in the south along the Sino-Tibetan borders, and upper Min river watershed in the east. Earlier in 1954, Drugchu was carved out of Dangchang, Min and Wudu counties as Zhouqu County, which is named after the Tibetan name of Bailong River that flows in the middle of Drugchu county town.

In Drugchu, Hui and Han Chinese are majorities and Tibetans constitute only 32% of the total population, according to 1990 census data. Tibetans being minority, the influence of Tibetan culture is seen minimal with the potently significant dominance from the Chinese cultures. Drugchu is the clear witness of high degree of sinicization (political and demographic) than almost any other Tibetan areas under Chinese domination. However, rural population in the west and south of Drugchu, located in close contacts with other Tibetan areas are recognizably more Tibetan in their livelihoods and culture.

Poverty is quite prevalent and the landscape is rugged terrains with severe natural landscape. Government paid less importance to the development of Drugchu county but exploitation of resources like timber, coal, iron and manganese are extensively carried out.1

The causes of Drugchu Landslide:

Numerous reports blamed torrential rain as the cause of latest devastating mudslides in Tibet, which is considered worst in over decades. But there are numerical factors, which triggered this catastrophic disaster. The entire Zhougu town was swallowed up when the Bailong River was filled with muds and debris, causing waves of muds and floods, killing thousands of people death, missing, orphans and homeless. The level of casualty is expectedly high and the return to normalcy grows with less hope as the National Meteorological Center warns of relatively large chances of more landslides in the future.

Somehow, it links Sichuan earthquake as the prime reason for this landslide, as Tao Qingfa, Deputy Director of the Department of Geological Environment, Ministry of Land and Resources of PRC mentioned, "A lingering drought lasting almost 9 months in some local areas and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that might have loosened the mountainside and caused some cracks are also reasons behind the devastating mudslide."2

Environmental Destruction:

Many believe that excessive exploitation of resources in the area had eventually cause the recent mudslides, which happened due to deforestation, mining and hydel power plants.

Drugchu was formerly a thickly forested area which in 1950s compared to Jiang nan, the most prosperous area in South China.3 But excessive deforestation in Drugchu over the years, had virtually deserted the area with only a trace of few solitary trees standing isolatedly in the district. Drugchu's forest stretch down in the south towards Namphel boundary. According to the Official record, state run timber companies cut 313,000 acres of forest in Zhouqu county between 1952 and 1990, demaging and causing huge soil erosion.4 More than 7,300 hectares of land has been converted into farmland. The deforestation in Drugchu exploited not only for timbers, but also for some valuable medicinal purposes. In 1997, Dr. Qi Long and Ma Dongtao published a paper, signally a possible catastrophic disaster due to the exhaustive deforestation in the region. Dr. Qi Long later stressed that, 'the mudslide was caused by geology, but it was worsened by deforestation.'5

Aftermath the landslide, Woeser, a Tibetan activist based in Beijing collected reports online via twitter and found this calamity as profoundly a man-made disaster. As for the construction of hydro power plants, between 2003 and 2007, there are 53 such projects signed in the region, 15 hydro electric power plants were already constructed in the region, including Bacang and Lijie hydro electric plants and 14 still in planning, like Fujiaai and Lianhekou. The total construction area of these projects reached 322.83 square hectometers and the disposed material reached 3.8348 million cubic meters. Water and soil erosion accounted 749 thousand tons.6

According to Prof. Fan Xiao, a Sichuan based geologist, 'dam building frenzy along almost every river over the past decades, combines with years of deforestation and poor land management, dealt a fatal blow to the environment and substantially magnified geological hazards.' Since 1823, Drugchu has witnessed more than 60 mudslides with at least 11 massive mudslides. Yang Yong, a geologist also hinted that large scale road and railway construction near Drugchu have also lead to the severe soil erosion, thus depleting the ecological balance.7

Mining is done on a large scale, as one witness stated, 'there are mining activities in Zhouqu for many years. The river has been polluted with gold rush and it is all muddy. The area has been ruined for long.'8 China Mineral Company Limited, established in 2007 stated that the mudslides caused minimal damage to their mining facilities and will resume their work by the end of this week.9

Damage Control: Precautionary Means

Due to the ecological disturbances taken place in Drugchu County over the years, the mudslides, landslides, floods and other natural disasters are bound to happen in the future, as warned by several geologists. It is obvious that both the central and the local government paid no heed to the problems happened in Drugchu over the years. Since that place is quite prone to mudslides, which is more devastating than flood as it moves fast and grows in size.

Tao Qingfa, Deputy Director of Geological Environment, Ministry of Land and Resource recommended 'the country must adopt precautionary measures against such geological disasters, including regular inspections of mountains, evacuations of residents from mudslide-prone areas, buildings of walls and stronger structures.'10

While looking at this present mudslide, government totally ignored the warning indicated earlier by Dr. Qi Long and Ma Dongtao in their paper in 1997. Critics like Prof. Fan Xiao, a geologist said, 'local authorities have ignored daunting warnings about sever consequences of dam-building and viewed dams as their key source of taxation, which contributed 50 per cent of Gannan's (Kanlho Tibet Autonomous Prefecture) revenue according to official statistics.'11 Even the local residents complaint Chinese government of doing nothing to prevent such problems which frequently happens in the region, due to various development programs such like damming, mining and logging.

Chinese government was swift in rescue works since the outbreak of SARS in 2003. But the question remains whether government waits for the disasters to strike by deliberately ignoring to prevent the disasters. The Scientists of China Academy of Sciences have been working on a project to tackle the risk of landslides in that area since 1996 but due to the lack of funding, the work was stopped.12 When the government earns hefty revenues from the development projects, it is necessary for the government to invest locally for the welfare of people. The reactive approach of helping people after disaster hits the region is not a wise move to get the sympathy and condolences from the leaders of other nations. May be China shows off its readiness to fast track its rescue mission, so to get admiration from other nations. If we carefully observe Sichuan and Kyegudo earthquakes, and even the recent Drugchu Landslide, the presence of heavy military presence in the area is noticeable, which during the normal time, stationed in these regions which is within and around the proximity of Tibet, meant to be strategically important to crush the non violent freedom seekers of Tibet.

Chinese government should learn a lesson from this disaster and shall put their effort on precautionary means to evade such catastrophic disaster to happen in the future. Otherwise, reactive approach of rescue work will not cease, as more disasters will strike in the future. In order to control such horrifying disasters, China need to emphasize in regulating its developmental policies, evaluate geological background, cut down its excessive exploitation of resources (including illegal mining and logging, which is widely practice in China) and conserve its ecology. If China fails to do that and moves ahead in a present trend, then it is very likely that more catastrophic disaster will hit more frequently and regularly.

The Chinese government claimed Drugchu Landslides as a result of torrential rain, but it is certainly not a natural disaster as it was caused by rampant deforestation, excessive mining and damming. So, ultimately, it is a man-made catastrophe.


1) Tibet Outside the TAR: Control, Exploitation and Assimilation, by Seteven D. Marshall, susette Ternent Cooke, The Alliance for Research in Tibet (Art), 1997




5) ibid







12) ibid

1 comment:

  1. i appreciate lekshay for your wise time spent on this timely research on dragchu land slide.may sleeping leaders of world will atleast take note of real cause of tragic dragchu land slide.especially overcatious indian government....