The construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway will not only change the economic and social landscape of the Tibet Autonomous Region, but will also improve the ecosystem, experts said.
Ecological improvement, or the reduction in environmental pollution, hinges upon the consumption of local people, said Wang Taifu, economist with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences. Wang has studied how the railroad will impact social progress in the region.
"The railway builders are paying special attention to ecological conservation requirements along the route," Wang said.
"Meanwhile, completion of the railway will upgrade transport in Tibet significantly and change the consumption structure of local residents, thus preserving the fragile environment," Wang added.
The autonomous region's rural inhabitants use dried cow manure, firewood, straw, pine branches and thorns as fuel .
"It doesn't matter if it is cow dung or bushes or mountainous naked plants - they use it all for fuel and it imposes threats to the ecosystem," Wang said.
When railway operation begins, regional transport costs will be reduced significantly. Areas within a 400-kilometer reach of any station along the route may use coal and natural gas instead of animal manure and firewood. This will improve living standards and, at the same time, reduce reliance on eco-fuels, according to Wang.
In the past few years, animal husbandry has accelerated desertification along with population growth and higher demand for beef and mutton in several Tibetan areas. Nagqu Prefecture lost more than 13.3 million hectares of grassland by 2001.
The situation will change upon completion of the railway as cheap consumer goods are transported to the region.
The Qinghai-Tibet railway will connect Xining, capital city of Qinghai Province, with Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The route will be 1,956 kilometers. The section between Xining and Golmud, Qinghai, opened in 1984.
(Xinhua News Agency August 3, 2004)