Protests against mining of lithium by the Lichu River in Kangding, Tibet

Beginning from 2005, in Minyak Lhagang the lithium-mining operations by Ronda Lithium Co, have caused polluting and killing fish in the Lung River, affecting water and livelihood of Tibetans. Many local protests have led to halt the plant temporary.


Description
In the last years beginning from 2005, the lithium-mining operations, in the area of the Kargyaka (Ch: Gajika) site near Balang village in Minyak Lhagang (Ch: Tagong), Dartsedo County ( Ch: Kangding) in Karze Prefecture, has caused  many Tibetan villagers protesters against the company Ronda Lithium Co Ltd, for polluting and killing fish in the Lung River, a tributary of Nakchu/Yalong river, the biggest river that merges with Yangtse downstream. [4] [5]. Furthermore in the area the Yulshok Gargye, one of the highest mountains in Kham region of eastern Tibet, is also one of the most sacred snow capped mountain in the region. Tibetans accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth. In Lhagang, the political stakes are high since the discovery of a major reserve of lithium and rare earths, known as the Jiajika deposit. This became particularly important to China when the demand for lithium intensified due to the lithium-ion battery that powers smartphones and tablets. [3]. The operations have caused landslide, severe damage to local forests, grasslands, and drinking water. Moreover waste from the mines has been dumped in the rivers, and mining activities have polluted the air. Tibet's rivers are the source of fresh water and livelihood for the lower riparian South East Asia and South Asian countries. [1] If the authorities had treated all the stakeholders equally, environmentalists, NGOs and the local Tibetans might have rejected the proposed mining project from the very beginning due to clear negative environmental and social impacts. It is evident that the local Tibetans were neither given equal participation and there wasn’t a clear instruction on the proposed project and its possible impact on the environment; the EIA, Environmental impact assessment, wasn't carried out at all. [1] [9] The plant already was opposed on 2005, but it had been forcibly set up by the Chinese authorities, despite strenuous local opposition[4] [5]. Pollution at the site also activated demise of fish and some domestic animals in 2011, inciting protests. Activities at the mine were suspended again in 2013 after an official investigation linked pollution from the operation with a mass die-off of aquatic life in the rivers[6]. In fact on October 2013 a contaminated water pond at a mining site overflowed into nearby rivers causing widespread pollution and resulting in the death of fish and livestock within a 20-30 kilometer radius. Drinking water for local people was polluted in Balang village, as well Raloo, Ngangkor, Lhagang and Khunup. Tibetans from the affected villages gathered at Lhagang township government offices to present a petition calling for an end to the environmental destruction. They brought large quantities of the dead fish with them as evidence, which they displayed outside the office. Following this action, communication lines in the area were cut on 14 October 2013. Officials from the county and prefecture capitals visited Lhagang and they promised to raise the issue with the higher authorities but took no further action, aside from increasing the number of police in the area in order to prevent any further action by the villagers. From this moment a number of Tibetans took to social media to vent their frustration and appeal for a solution. In 2014, three civilians petitioned Beijing to issue a ruling on the incidents, asking officials to ban mining in the area, without success. [6]  Actually the local Tibetans' protest against the mining site caused the closing of the mining site but the company was never penalized for the damage it caused to the environment. [1] According to exiled Tibetans, the Chinese company re-started lithium mining in April (2016) [2] Consequently on 4 May 2016, again it happened: a sudden mass death of fish in the Lichu River brought hundreds of local Tibetans out on the street to protest against mining. The protesters were from nomadic villages in Minyak county [3]. An official document dated May 6, 2016, apparently issued by the governments of Kardze Prefecture and of Dartsedo, stated that the local authorities,  were calling a halt to the mining, specifically mentioning “environmental problems” and in order to “resolve remaining issues”. It appears that stopping the mining is likely to be temporary, but it is still a significant move by the local authorities. The text of the official document from Kardze announcing the temporary stop of the mining operation is translated below from Chinese into English: “The People’s Government of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the People’s Government of Kangding City solemnly commit: the mining by the Rongdali Company in the Jiajika spodumene[10] mining development has caused environmental problems and since no consensus has yet been reached with the people, there will be no mining until the relevant remaining issues have been resolved. Solemnly commit! On May 6, 2016. Signed: People’s Government of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and People’s Government of Kangding City” [3]. Local Tibetans believe that the death of hundreds of fish is caused by the poisoned water from the mining site and suspect leakage from the water leaching site. Effectively the highly concentrated acid stored for water leaching process might have leaked and drained into the Lichu River, which in turn may have led to the contamination of water, causing death of hundreds of fish. The mining company in question should compensate for damaging river ecosystem to the local Tibetans who are dependent on the river for their daily livelihood or should take voluntary action in depolluting the Lichu River and the local environment. [1]  In effect the article 85, in the Law of PRC on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, states: "The party whose rights and interests are damaged by a water pollution accident is entitled to ask the party discharging pollutants to eliminate the damage and make compensation for their losses."  [8]
Basic Data
NameProtests against mining of lithium by the Lichu River in Kangding, Tibet
CountryChina
ProvinceKarze Prefecture, Sichuan province
SiteLichu River in Minyak Lhagang, Dartsedo County (also called Kangding, Tachienlua and Dardo)
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral processing
Mineral ore exploration
Specific CommoditiesLithium
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
China's growing demand for minerals put the Tibetan Plateau at the forefront of its policies to profit from potential mining sites. Lithium based batteries have higher capacity to store power, are lighter in weight and cheaper than nickel metal hydride, form of batteries earlier used in tablets, smartphones and in electric and hybrid cars. In front of subsidy of electric vehicles and steadily growing lithium price will meet the demand of China's huge appetite for lithium from other countries in the future, for the Chinese government, the only solution is to mine the Tibetan Plateau. In fact Tibet has more than 90% of China's lithium reserves. This will in turn cut the cost and reduce China's dependence on other countries for lithium and will aid China's continued influence on lithium price in the global market. [1]
See more...
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date01/01/2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesRonda Lithium Co Ltd from China
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Pastoralists
Tibetan nomads[2]
Forms of MobilizationObjections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
On 13 October 2013, Tibetans from the affected villages gathered at Lhagang township government offices to present a petition calling for an end to the environmental destruction. They brought large quantities of the dead fish with them as evidence, which they displayed outside the office[4]; A number of Tibetans took to social media to vent their frustration and appeal for a solution
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
OtherLandslides[2];

The death of hundreds of fish is caused by the poisoned water from the water leaching site by mining. The optimum pH level of majority of the aquatic animals lies between pH 6.5 to 9. Any further change in the optimum pH causes strain on animal physiology, reduces hatching and survival rate. Aquatic animals are more sensitive towards acids than alkalis. A change in pH with 0.5 towards acid from pure water (pH 7) causes aquatic animals in an abnormal environment and cannot survive when the pH level is lower than 3. Highly concentrated acids in the local river due to leakage of water leaching site may have altered the level of pH to as low as 3 causing death of fish and damage to the entire local river ecosystem. The water leaching site might contain organic wastes (dead plants and animals) since the mining site was closed for a few years, the organic wastes drained into river water are decomposed by aerobic bacteria. Decomposition of the organic wastes is a major function of aerobic bacteria to provide nutrient to aquatic animals and requires oxygen which in turn cause depletion in oxygen level to other aquatic animals. High concentration of nitrates and phosphate if present in the contaminated water can be a factor lowering dissolved oxygen and causing high mortality rate of fish. [1]
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Deaths
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence
Other[4]Tibet Watch
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The plant was closed many time in the last years after protests, in front of the evidence of the mining's responsibility for the river's pollution. However this happened without penalization for the company and until now, without any compensation for damaging river ecosystem to the local Tibetans who are dependent on the river for their daily livelihood[1]. For the last protest in May 2016, although the mining's halt appears likely to be temporary, it is a significant move by the local authorities. [3].
Sources and Materials
Legislations

[8]Law of the People's Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, 1996, Article 85 states: "The party whose rights and interests are damaged by a water pollution accident is entitled to ask the party discharging pollutants to eliminate the damage and make compensation for their loss-es." [1]
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[9]ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT LAW OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, 2003; Article 5 of the EIA states: "The state shall encourage all relevant units, experts and the public to participate in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in proper ways."[1]
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References

Gabriel Lafitte, ‘Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World’, Zed Books, 2013

[4]Tibet Watch, “Environmental Protest on the Tibetan plateau”, January 2015, pp. 14-15
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[7] Rukor-admin, TIBETAN LITHIUM IN YOUR POCKET, November 6, 2015
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Links

[1]Tibet: Environmental and Desk, Tenzin Palden, Lichu River Poisoned : Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, 8 June 2016
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Tibet.net, Lichu River Poisoned – Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, June 6, 2016
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Social Page on Tibet, Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, June 6, 2016, READ MORE AT: http://sunyat.free.fr
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Sitesunyata,Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Ti-bet’s lithium, May 10, 2016
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[3]International Campaign For Tibet, Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Tibet’s lithium, MAY 9, 2016
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[2]The Tibet post, Tibetans protest against Chinese mining in Minyak County, Tibet, 06 May 2016
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[5]Radio Free Asia, Tibetans Protest Restart of Operations by Chinese Mining Company, May 9, 2016
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[6]Yeshi Dorje, Chinese Police Clamp Down on Tibetan Mining Protest, Voice of America, May 06, 2016
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Media Links

[6] Activists Protest Mining Operations in Yeshi Dorje, Chinese Police Clamp Down on Tibetan Mining Protest, Voice of America, May 06, 2016
http://www.voanews.com/content/chinese-police-clamp-down-tibetan-mining-protest/3319093.html
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Other Documents

Social page Tibet https://www.facebook.com/187772390283/photos/a.10150163575635284.414910.187772390283/10156999646525284/?type=3
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Tibet.net, Lichu River Poisoned – Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, June 6, 2016 http://tibet.net/2016/06/lichu-river-poisoned-case-of-minyak-lhagang-lithium-mine-protest/ Dead fishes in the Lichu River, believed to be killed by the Lithium mining site.
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Tibet: Environmental and Desk, Lichu River Poisoned : Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, 8 June 2016 http://tibet-edd.blogspot.com.es/ Lithium mine site
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[2]The Tibet post, Tibetans protest against Chinese mining in Minyak County, Tibet, 06 May 2016 http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/4998-tibetans-protest-against-chinese-mining-in-minyak-county-tibet Tibetans in Minyac County, eastern Tibet protestin againstChines mining operation at a sacred, on May 4 2016. Photo: TPI
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[3]International Campaign For Tibet, Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Tibet’s lithium, MAY 9, 2016 https://www.savetibet.org/temporary-halt-to-mining-after-protest-in-eastern-tibet-the-rush-to-invest-in-tibets-lithium/
Description:A Tibetan woman lies on the road as part of a sit-in protest at the mine in Lhagang.
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[3]International Campaign For Tibet, Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Tibet’s lithium, MAY 9, 2016 https://www.savetibet.org/temporary-halt-to-mining-after-protest-in-eastern-tibet-the-rush-to-invest-in-tibets-lithium/
Description: Armed police in riot gear at the protest on May 4.
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[7] Rukor-admin, TIBETAN LITHIUM IN YOUR POCKET, November 6, 2015: http://rukor.org/tibetan-lithium-in-your-pocket/
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Meta Information
ContributorMyriam Bartolucci, EJAtlas internship researcher, [email protected]
Last update14/07/2016
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