JIAJIKA, CHINA — High in western China’s Sichuan province, in the shadow of holy mountains, the Liqi River flows through a lush, grassy valley, dotted with grazing yaks, small Tibetan villages and a Buddhist temple. But there’s poison here.
A large lithium mine not only desecrates the sacred grasslands, villagers say, but spawns deadly pollution. This river used to be full of fish. Today, there are hardly any. Hundreds of yaks, the villagers say, have died in the past few years after drinking river water.
China’s thirst for mineral resources — and its desire to exploit the rich deposits under the Tibetan plateau — have spread environmental pollution and anguish for many of the herders whose ancestors lived here for thousands of years. The land they worship is under assault, and their way of life is threatened without their consent, the herders say.
“Old people, we see the mines and we cry,” a 67-year-old yak herder said, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution. “What are the future generations going to do? How are they going to survive?”
A local environmentalist, who also declined to be named to prevent backlash from the authorities, said he had done an oral survey of local opinion and found that Tibetans would oppose mining projects even if companies promised to share profits with local communities, to fill in mines after they were exhausted, and to return sites to their natural state.
“God is in the mountains and the rivers, these are the places that spirits live,” he said. “When mining comes and the grassland is dug up, people believe worse disasters will come. It destroys the mountain god.”
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