A US$40M loan to China, to help fund an US$80M water project in Tibet, has been condemned by Tibet Right groups, human rights activists, Tibet’s government in exile and environmental lobby groups.

The World Bank approved the US$40M loan in June to help expand the existing reservoir and build a 41m dam at Keri to irrigate fields in Dulan, a sparsely inhabited county populated for centuries by Mongolian and Tibetan herders.

The Chinese government plans to move 58,000 poor Chinese farmers to Dulan from arid, over-farmed land to the east. The project also envisages the construction of a 41m high dam at Keri, and expanding the existing reservoir to supply the 120 villages that will be created.

Critics say the project will cause environmental damage and aid alleged Chinese government plans to anchor Tibetan regions with Chinese settlers. Chinese officials say the project is the only option for improving the lives of impoverished farmers in the region.

In a showdown at the World Bank’s US headquarters in June, the US and Germany opposed the project. Other donor governments agreed to the loan only if China allowed an independent review of the project.

The World Bank argues the project will have little negative environmental impact. It based its decision on a report prepared by Chinese consultants working for the government.

The Bank said that diversion of water for the project may shrink wetlands to the north of the site, but says any effect will be slight.