Protest launches new campaign to save Tibet's water

Grand Theft Tibet
Grand Theft Tibet

2nd June 2016

Free Tibet staged a peaceful protest today to mark the start of a major new campaign to challenge the reckless exploitation of Tibet's resources and its environment.

The Grand Theft Tibet campaign is initially focussing on Tibet's water resources and the threat posed to them by the rapidly expanding industry bottling its water for consumer use. Our protest took place outside the London headquarters of a multinational company which has invested in the bottled water industry in Tibet. With plans to expand the industry seventy-fold by 2025, the Tibetan environment is facing another serious threat.

Emptying the bucket

Tibet’s water resources are under increasing pressure from a range of natural and man-made challenges. Climate change has led to Tibetan glaciers shrinking by 15% over the past thirty years. It is predicted that if the glaciers continue to melt at this rate, two-thirds will disappear by 2050. Meanwhile, Chinese commercial and government projects, including damming for hydropower and water diversion are changing the water supply from Tibet fundamentally, threatening the hundreds of millions of people across Asia who depend on it. Almost every major river in Tibet is dammed, with more than 100 dams and cascades built or planned across the Tibetan Plateau. At the same time, other extractive industries, such as gold and copper mining, are polluting Tibet's rivers and consuming latge quantities of water.

Around 10 companies are currently known to be bottling water from glaciers and springs across Tibet but a massive expansion is expected. In 2014, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) ignored the host of threats to Tibet's water resources and signed contracts with 16 more companies. In 2015, it announced its plan to expand water production (in the TAR alone) to 10 million tonnes a year over the next ten years.

According to Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre:

“The Tibetan water tower cannot support all the damming and the extracting that is taking place right now. Bottled water doesn’t have nearly the impact that dams and water-intensive industries do, but it’s another big drop being taken out of the bucket.”

Raiding Tibet's resources

Tibet Spring 5100 is a high-end bottled water brand, sold across China. Bottled in Tibet since 2006, it was the “official drinking water” of the 2007 National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the 18th Party Congress in 2012, when power was handed over to China's current president, Xi Jinping. The company has received more than US$50m of government support.

In its publicity, Tibet 5100 boasts of a 60 square kilometre “water protection zone” around its bottling site north of Lhasa, in which grazing is not permitted and human activity limited. Millions of Tibetan nomads have been moved from their land in the last ten years to open it up for resource exploitation.

Tibet 5100 is owned by Tibet Water Resources Ltd (TWRL), which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Its largest shareholders are mainly Western investment companies, whose money is helping to sustain this business. Free Tibet has already contacted eight major shareholding companies asking them to sell their shares. Two different BlackRock-affiliated companies are shareholders in TWRL but the company has yet to respond to our letters.

Take action

Tibetans dispute the right of China to dispose of Tibet’s natural resources and oppose the environmental damage and pollution that result from it. They are often faced with dams, mines and other projects on sites with religious significance. More than 14 major protests have taken place since 2012, a number of which have been broken up by force. The most recent protest was just days ago.

China's government and Chinese companies, like TWRL, see Tibet's land as a source of profit. Only Tibetans have the right to exploit Tibet's natural resources and only they will do so with respect for the land and environment. Foreign companies should not invest in water bottling unless they know it is being undertaken by Tibetans, onbehalf of Tibetans and Tibet. BlackRock have not so far responded to Free Tibet. Please contact them now and ask them to sell their holding in Tibet Water Resources Ltd.