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Major rivers sourced in Tibet (source: Michael Buckley)
Major rivers sourced in Tibet (source: Michael Buckley)

The Tibetan plateau, dubbed the “Third Pole” and part of the "Roof of the World", holds the third largest store of water-ice in the world and is the source of many of Asia’s rivers. Tibetan climate also generates and regulates monsoon rains over Asia.

For China's government, Tibet's water is another resource to be exploited, for hydro-electric power, diversion to supply people elsewhere in China, bottling as a consumer product, and even as a source of strategic influence over countries downstream who rely on water from Tibet's rivers.

Damming has taken place or will soon take place on every major river in Tibet. These dams change water flow, create new lakes, disturb local ecosystems and have significant effects downstream, including stopping the flow of silt which makes agricultural land fertile. Dams and infrastructure such as new roads can force Tibetans from their land.

In a massive engineering project, China even plans to divert water from Tibet to feed 300 million of its own citizens.