Weary Tibetan People Find Supporting Hand In ASU Graduate Student

An Arizona State University graduate student studying the Tibetan plateau in China is helping nomadic yak herders fight two years of savage winters.

Biology student Marc Foggin went to the Qinghai Province of China to learn how best to sustain development and ecology on the grasslands of Tibet, one of the harshest environments in the world.

His job is to help nomads, whose livelihood depends on yaks, find long-term solutions to poverty in an environment where the average temperature is below freezing.

But thanks to record snowfall, Mother Nature has put the future of the plateau on hold. And while Foggin's brain concentrates on the answers of tomorrow, his heart cannot forget what he sees today.

"The family that sticks out most strongly in my mind is the family of seven people who lost all 34 of their yak and decided to sell their tent in order to buy five yak from their neighbors," Foggin says through E-mail.

"Now four of them have had to leave the family to work for other pastoralists (nomadic herders) that have not lost as many animals, and three of them live in an old tent that is only 3-by-3 meters in area."

The family's story and other tales of suffering drove Foggin to organize a relief effort for the people of the countryside, an idea that will end with over 60 six-ton trucks of supplies that will be delivered this month to 18 townships.

On the Tibetan plateau, it is the yak that gives life. In fact they are called "the ship of the plateau."

But the heaviest snowfall in the area's history covered grasses eaten by animals resulting in their starvation and frostbitten herders, some of whom also suffer snow blindness.

The nomads, who live at an elevation of between 13,000 and 15,000 feet, live mainly in yak-hair tents and eat a ground barley called tsampa with yak butter and tea.

They herd their livestock daily and move between winter and summer pastures with s

Contact: Jim Hathaway
(602) 965-6375
Arizona State University

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