Victory for a Chinese non-profit


Guest post by Min Zheng and Xiu Min Li of Pacific Environment in San Francisco.

Liangjiawan is a small village of about 1,500 residents in Gansu province, China. For decades, the villagers there have been drinking untreated water piped in from the Yellow River. While a water treatment facility was built during one of the Communist Party’s political campaigns to bring clean drinking water to rural China, the machine broke down within two months and no one ever came to fix it. 

For decades, water was pumped up from the river to the facility, only to be sent down without any actual treatment. When orange-colored water poured out of the household faucet, it would be left in a bucket for a whole day in order to allow the sediments to sink to the bottom. This “home-made water treatment” process would repeat two more times and then the water would be boiled for another 15 minutes before it became drinkable.

The situation worsened when Caijiaxia Hydropower Station was built adjacent to the village in 2007. It flooded farmlands and resulted in wastewater discharge from nearby factories gathering in the new reservoir, further intensifying the level of contamination in the water supply. In 2008, the Chinese non-profit Green Camel Bell discovered the situation in Liangjiawan during one of their field investigations of the Yellow River’s pollution problems.

For a year, Green Camel Bell collected water samples and conducted health surveys among Liangjiawan villagers. Based on testimonies from the villagers and data obtained from the village health clinic, cancer related deaths in the village increased by 30% from 2003-2008. Nine people died from heart failure and cancer-related diseases within eight months in 2008. The villagers believed the cause of death and increased health problems were associated with drinking untreated water contaminated with poisonous chemicals and heavy metals discharged from nearby industries.

In response, Green Camel Bell published and distributed a “Water Pollution Citizen’s Guide” to educate the villagers on their legal rights. Utilising the 2008 Information Disclosure Act, Green Camel Bell requested waste water discharge data to pressure these companies to go through third party environmental audits in order to clean up their production. For two years, Green Camel Bell brought local and international reporters, as well as Chinese and foreign NGO delegations to the village to draw attention to their situation. They held countless negotiations with the local government and the Caijiaxia Hydropower Station in order to pressure them to find long term solutions for Liangjiawan.

Finally, in 2010, an agreement was brokered between all parties to build a new pipe that will deliver clean water from the hydropower station’s own treatment facility to the village. Green Camel Bell’s persistent efforts and brave leadership gave voices to rural Chinese people whose plights and rights would otherwise not have been heard or respected.

This post originally appeared on the website of Pacific Environment and can be read in full here.

Photo courtesy of Pacific Environment. Zhao Zhong (second from left), director of Green Camel Bell, stands in front of the abandoned water treatment facility in Liangjiawan during a site visit as part of Pacific Environment’s annual water pollution meeting in 2008.