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Panel at ‘World Water Week’ highlights water security in Tibet and Himalayas

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The panel at ‘World Water Week Conference’ in Stockholm discussed ‘Addressing Water Security Challenges in Himalayan Region’ on August 24 (Photo/Facebook)

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, August 30: The World Water Week Conference in Stockholm hosted a panel on August 24, focusing on “Addressing Water Security Challenges in the Himalayan Region.” Organized by the US State Department in collaboration with the International Water Management Institute, the event marked a departure from previous conferences by openly discussing Tibet’s critical role in the Himalayan water system, reported advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet.

“In the other conferences that I have participated in earlier when we talked about water security in the Himalayas, none of these countries or the speakers dared to speak about what is happening in the upstream of all the Himalayan regions” in Tibet, said Lobsang Yangtso, a senior researcher at the International Tibet Network. “So I’m really glad right now that we are discussing this,” she added.

The Himalayan region’s freshwater supply is of global significance, as glacial runoff feeds essential rivers that sustain approximately 1.8 billion people across South and Southeast Asia. Tibet’s unique ecological makeup influences this water balance, underscoring its vital role in the stability and development of downstream nations. However, mounting concerns have risen due to China’s expansive water diversion projects and hydropower initiatives in Tibet, threatening the region’s water security, ecosystems, and local communities.

Representatives from various organizations contributed insights during the panel. Lobsang Yangtso and Tsechu Dolma, founders of the Mountain Resiliency Project and Tibetan exiles, highlighted China’s contentious water management strategies and emphasized the necessity of cooperation for sustainable growth.

US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, who also serves as the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, drew attention to China’s unchecked development activities in Tibet, which have led to the displacement of indigenous Tibetan communities and posed serious risks to downstream water security. Rebecca Peters, a water policy advisor to the US State Department, stressed the urgency of adopting a collaborative approach, referencing the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020, which encourages transparency, shared information, and cooperation among all stakeholders involved, including China, the Tibetan community and downstream nations.

Asok Kumar, Director General of India’s National Mission for Clean Ganga under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, highlighted the pivotal role of Himalayan water sources for downstream countries like India. He pointed out that India’s lifeline, the Ganges River, originates in the Himalayas.

The panel concluded with a resounding call for increased dialogue and platforms to address environmental concerns in Tibet and the Himalayas. Lobsang Yangtso emphasized the importance of open discussions to exert pressure on the Chinese government and to hold them accountable for their environmental policies.

A white paper summarizing the panel’s discussions and insights is anticipated to provide further information and recommendations on addressing water security challenges in the Himalayan region. 

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