Monday, March 10, 2008

List #10: Ten Rivers whose sources are in Tibet

The whole is interconnected. Years ago, rivers facilitated travel and trade. Now, we call it globalization with three dimensions that define it - spatial, temporal and cognitive.

There is more movement across borders - both tourism and elective travel though also the flight of people across borders, either looking for work or looking for a safe place to live. Airports that were built just a few years ago have to be expanded because of need. UNHCR estimated that in 2000, there were 22 million refugees fleeing conflicts across the world (this is before the war in Iraq; UNHCR also does not include internally displaced people in its figures).

Temporal aspects of globalization includes the ever decreasing amount of time to communicate. I remember when I first worked in Thailand in the mid 1980's - communication was by telex (this was even pre-fax days), few houses had telephones (had to wait in line at the first stores that had telephones), and even letters took several weeks or a month to arrive (if they got there at all). Now, with internet, people can learn quickly about things that are going on. I get e-mails all the time requiring immediate responses (no more luxury to think). People on the street can send their cellphone videos and images to CNN. Everything is immediate.

Cognitive aspects of globalization refers to the exchange of ideas and is probably the most important dimension. My staff communicate by IM and chat rooms with other people in other countries. I can do my continuing medical education programs on-line and teach medical topics by researching on the web. It's exciting - and threatening.

On 10 March, 1959, the people of Tibet rose up against the Chinese who came to liberate their country. The Dalai Lama himself had fled across the mountain ranges to India. On this day, demonstrations have started in China, protesting Chinese occupation. This will be a story to watch.

But to get back to the topic - my list for the day. Back in the old days, the rivers that connected the world were physical ones, not the rivers of the internet. Here's a list of the rivers that start in Tibet, which were and still are the main arteries for transportation and trade. These are the great rivers of Asia - and my own Mekong is one of them:

1. The Mekong is the 11th longest river in the world, stretching 3,032 miles from the Tibetan Plateau to the mouths of the Mekong in Vietnam. Because of rapids and shallow water conditions, it's not navigable along its whole length - though long sections are open to river travel. The Khone Falls divide the river near the border of Laos and Cambodia; an endangered species of freshwater dolphins live around these falls. With globalization, there have been efforts by all the countries along the Mekong to take advantage of it - by damming the tributaries that serve it and blasting the rapids, which can have a devastating effect on the fish species that need the rapids to breed.

2. The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world - 6,300 kilometers in length. It starts in the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau and exits China at Shanghai; it is fed by more than 700 tributaries. The Three Gorges Dam has had a major impact on the environment of the river, as well as causing human migration (displacing more than one million people) from communities along the banks of the reservoir. (Update: a Scientific American article details the issues in which the Chinese government is now admitting to the environmental changes caused by the Three Gorges Dam)

3. The Yellow River is the sixth longest river in the world, 3,398 miles in length. It is referred to as the "Cradle of Chinese Civilization," where the first communities developed because of its favorable growing climate. Like the Yangtze, it is being exploited through the building of dams (12 are noted in the Wikipedia article). In recent years, the river flow has decreased, affecting people who need the river for their livelihoods. History and culture link.

4. The Indus River - is the most important river in Pakistan, and flows along the driest areas of the world along its 1, 976 length. A picture of the delta is here.

5. The Brahmaputra - is the major river of Bangladesh and India along its 1,800 mile length.

6. The Ganges River is 1,557 miles long and flows through the most densely populated areas in the world, providing their water for drinking, cooking and bathing as well as being a religious shrine in motion.

7. The Salween River is unique - there are no dams along its course, and it is the longest undammed river in SE Asia. The river is not navigable because it runs through isolated countryside, high cliffs and rapids. However, there have been proposals - and opposition - to dam the river, which would provide more wealth to the Burmese junta.

8. The Yarlung Tsangpo River is the source of the Brahmaputra.

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