Picture credit: QUARTZ 

The mighty Mount Everest, or Sagarmatha (as the Nepalese call it), at an elevation of 8,850 meters is indisputably one of the hardest mountains to climb. What is harder though is boring a tunnel right through it, and China, quite unsurprisingly has set its sails onto it.

In one of the latest developments of China trying to achieve the impossible, they have set their eyes on making a railway route that links Beijing with Nepal via Mt. Everest. The Qinghai- Tibet railway link which already exists, connects china with the Tibet capital Lhasa, would be extended to connect to the mountain state’s capital Kathmandu passing beneath the Himalayan mountain range. This 540- kilometer rail link would boost trade and tourism between the two countries. According to China daily, this project had been planned at Nepal’s request. It would also be expected to be completed by 2020.

The question that remains is whether this ambitious plan of China is a disaster or a step forward to the future. Many times in the past China has proved itself when it comes to technological advancement. This time it would be no different. This project would improve trade relations between Nepal and China much to, India’s chagrin. In the past, Nepal had to rely on India for import but with this plan, Nepal can receive supplies from china widening its trade and presence in South Asia.

While this plan would be beneficial to the countries involved in improving their economic ties, how would it affect the ecosystem of the world’s highest and largest plateau? The ecosystem of the Himalayas is fragile mainly due to global warming and its effects are being felt for quite some time now. Due to global warming, rocks are more noticeable than snow, indicating that snow is melting at a faster pace. Reports of there being more glacial lakes forming increases the risks of floods and damage to the people living in the vicinity. Avalanches and rock falls are increasing due to global warming and will keep increasing due to constant drilling for the tunnel’s construction. The supplies used in building it will be taken from the forests, causing deforestation. Plastic pollution would also be unavoidable because of people coming and going. The garbage accumulation on Everest has often been featured prominently in media worldwide. In 2011, 8.1 tons of garbage was collected from Everest and its trails during ‘Save the Everest Mission’ organized by Everest Summiteer’s Association (ESA). The fauna and flora of the Himalayas is rare and endangered and if this plan succeeds, it could make their lives uncertain in the future. The Himalayas are known as the ‘roof of the world’ and their steady degradation due to human interference and pollution will cause the very same roof to collapse on us and endanger the world. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) also commented about Beijing- Nepal railway link, stating that they could have dangerous implications on regional security and the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas.

There are some human rights and environmental organizations that question whether the project could achieve its potential without harm to human life or the ecosystem. Perhaps China could learn a thing or two from Bhutan, the greenest country in the world. The only country in the world that is carbon negative (produces more oxygen than it consumes), Bhutan focuses on increasing its GNH (gross national happiness) rather than GDP (gross domestic product). It has 70% forest cover and exports hydropower fueled by Bhutan’s fastest moving streams to India and other countries.

There are many ways Nepal and China can strengthen their economic ties and increase tourism. ICT President Matteo Mecacci questioned China’s intentions, stating that the “Chinese government’s claim that rail expansion on the plateau simply benefits tourism and lifts Tibetans out of poverty does not hold up to scrutiny and cannot be taken at face value.” Development is only feasible as long as the environment is safe or else it could lead to disaster the magnitude of which the world has never seen.

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