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Mounting Work to Protect Mountain
Many of those who have not set foot on Mount Qomolangma in the Himalayan Mountains tend to think it is a world of sterile whiteness devoid of life. During my trip there last May, I discovered quite the opposite - this area on the roof of the world is full of life. And this rich life has been nurtured by many local people working to protect the environment in the area.

Solar energy

Zholma is the director of the Wildlife Protection Office of the Tibet Forestry Commission.

Although her home village is inaccessible by highways, she is proud of the deep valleys that criss-cross the Himalayan Mountains.

"These valleys are like 'tunnels' through which the humid warm current from the Indian Ocean sails on to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau," she said.

A rich variety of wildlife, from rare plants to animals, build their homes in the valleys at different elevations, making the area one of the world's largest living museums of wildlife and biodiversity.

As an environmentalist, Zholma is well aware how the traditional way of building fires by firewood affects the fragile green vegetation in the Qomolangma area.

But for generations, her family and her neighbours chopped groves in the Qomolangma for firewood. They piled the wood on the roofs of their houses. The local people deemed this natural and felt they were doing nothing wrong.

However, Zholma started to change their way of thinking. She bought a solar energy stove in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and brought it home to upgrade the traditional way of cooking.

But her family refused to use the stove. They told Zholma they wouldn't want to burden the sun with too much work as it already works from early morning till late in the evening.

"Whether the sun will feel tired if he is made to cook for us is open to discussion," Zholma said. "However, it is a fact that vegetation on the slopes at more than 4,000 metres above sea level is being destroyed as the local population grows. This points to the need to adopt a substitute fuel for cooking."

Young son

Purqoin is the deputy director of the Xigaze Qomolangma Protection Bureau and director of the bureau's Tingri branch.

With a heavy work schedule to supervise the intensive nature protection work, he spends the best part of the year in the Qomolangma State Nature Reserve away from his home in Xigaze.

Whenever he leaves home for his work in Tingri, more than 300 kilometres away, his wife will mark a line on the home calendar to document how many days Purgoin is expected to be away from home.

As a porter in a local granary, his wife's working hours are irregular and has difficulty taking care of their two sons at the same time.

Purgoin had to take their elder son with him when he went on inspection tours of the Qomolangma area.

"My elder son practically lived in the car for two years when he was three," he recalled. "The trips were an ordeal instead of an enjoyment for him at that time."

His son is 10 years old now. Despite the fact his son could tell what kinds of wild animals are under what levels of protection under the government decrees, he replied with a firm "no" when asked if he would take up his father's work when he grows up.

"I feel sorry for him and my younger son today," Purqoin said.

However, he has no regrets when talking about his work geared to protect the eco-environment in the Qomolangma area.

He is always eager to talk about project "Pandba," which has mobilized local individual farmers and herds people to take charge of the "welfare" of the nature reserve.

In the reserve, I was delighted to see quite a number of wild animals.

Zholma and Purqoin must take most of the credit for building up local awareness to protect the Qomolangma area.

Environmental issues

Chen Xianshun is the director of the Tibet Environmental Protection Bureau.

A graduate from the Institute of Architectural Engineering in Chongqing, Chen won a national award in 1998 for his design to expand the Potala Palace square in Lhasa. He was then vice-mayor of Lhasa.

But today he has taken charge of the projects to protect the local environment, and enjoys explaining the sights he cherishes.

Chen said the huge pebble stones I saw during my travels in the area took their current form after numerous movements of the earth. He talked about how the ancient Tethys Sea receded and high mountains rose up to form the plateau and then fall again to turn into the lakes.

"It's also possible they may have something to do with ancient seas," he said.

He also explained the deserts taking shape at the foot of the snow mountains. He said a plateau is closer to the sun than any other place on earth. The huge difference of temperatures between day and night result in strong alpine winds.

"Exposed to these winds, the rocks weather at a quicker pace and sands shift in large tracts for dozens of kilometres or even some 100 kilometres, and then settle in river valleys or mountain gullies," Chen said.

Chen is shouldering an enormous task after his appointment as the region's environment protection bureau director.

He and his colleagues made an investigation of the region's ecosystem two years ago.

They discovered global warming has affected the ecosystem in the region.

"With the rise in atmospheric temperature, the snow line of Qomolangma is moving up, the wetlands at its foot degenerating, and some lakes drying up," he said.

With an elevation of 4,500 metres on average, Tibet - covering an area of some 1.2 million square kilometres - has a fragile ecosystem.

He said he and his colleagues could do little to stop global warming but they must work harder to seek a balance between rapid economic development in the region and environmental protection.

"How to seek a harmonious existence between man and nature is a pressing issue for us," he said.

(China Daily June 5, 2002)

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