China is launching an array of hydraulic projects along the Tibetan section of the Brahmaputra river. Photo: Xinhua
China has launched an array of dam projects along the Tibetan section of the Brahmaputra River. Photo: Xinhua

China has been accused of diverting water from the Himalayas through a series of dams and underground tunnels. Media reports suggested that the world’s second largest economy is channeling water from the upstream Tibetan section of the trans-boundary Brahmaputra river.

This normally flows through China, India and Bangladesh, but now it is being partially redirected to irrigate the arid Taklamakan Desert in southern Xinjiang more than 100 kilometers away.

India’s media have been quick to pounce on satellite images taken last month by the geospatial imaginary firm DigitalGlobe in the United States.

The Brahmaputra river runs from Tibet through India and Bhutan before joining the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. Photo: Pfly/WikiCommons

Last week, the New Delhi-based startup, The Print, reported that the Brahmaputra river appeared to disappear into a 900-meter underground tunnel in Tibet, where the river is also called Yarlung Tsangpo.

The media outlet cited latest satellite imagery that showed “a massive new dam” with an underground tunnel that engulfs the entire water flow for almost 1 kilometer.

One dam located about 100 kilometers west of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, seems to be forcing water into two 50-meter outlets.

The geography of the area clearly indicates that China could be planning to divert the water to southern Xinjiang, according to The Print.

China blocks Brahmaputra completely. Photo: The Print

The topography around the project site on the Tibetan plateau and the Taklamakan basin suggests that water would be able to flow naturally without any additional large storage wells.

But The Print stressed that its information came from low resolution images, while that the Indian authorities have yet to confirm the actual existence of a new dam or the related projects.

Yesterday, China’s media completely brushed aside the accusations, branding the reports “hysterical.” Indian news outlets were also warned not to meddle in China’s hydraulic and irrigation projects within its own borders.

Still, The Times of India reported last month that the color of the Brahmaputra river had changed from “crystal to black with the presence of slag” in the water.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong also revealed earlier this year that Chinese engineers were testing techniques which could be used to build a 1,000km tunnel.

It would be the world’s longest and it would be able to carry water from Tibet to Xinjiang.

But then, China’s ability to construct monster infrastracture projects on one of the world’s highest plateaus is illustrated by the 1,900km Qinghai–Tibet railway link, which was commissioned a decade ago.

Indeed, the country has rolled out a series of high-profile programs in Tibet from combating poverty to boosting border defenses.

Now, the underwater tunnel to be excavated at the bottom of the mountain range is just another on Beijing’s growing list of mega developments for the autonomous region.

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