China’s Thirst Threat
When identifying threats to Himalayan ecosystems, China has stood out for years, owing to its frenzied damming of rivers and unbridled exploitation of mineral wealth on the resource-rich Tibetan Plateau. Now it is compounding the damage, as it encourages its bottled-water companies to tap the Himalayas' already-stressed glaciers.
HONG KONG – When identifying threats to Himalayan ecosystems, China stands out. For years, the People’s Republic has been engaged in frenzied damming of rivers and unbridled exploitation of mineral wealth on the resource-rich Tibetan Plateau. Now it is ramping up efforts to spur its bottled-water industry – the world’s largest and fastest-growing – to siphon off glacier water in the region.
Nearly three-quarters of the 18,000 high-altitude glaciers in the Great Himalayas are in Tibet, with the rest in India and its immediate neighborhood. The Tibetan glaciers, along with numerous mountain springs and lakes, supply water to Asia’s great rivers, from the Mekong and the Yangtze to the Indus and the Yellow. In fact, the Tibetan Plateau is the starting point of almost all of Asia’s major river systems.
By annexing Tibet, China thus changed Asia’s water map. And it is aiming to change it further, as it builds dams that redirect trans-boundary riparian flows, thereby acquiring significant leverage over downriver countries.