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Earth Island News

Bay Area International Development Organizations

by Martin Witte, BAIDO Program Coordinator

Working with Chinese environmentalists

NGOs in the Bay Area International Development Organizations (BAIDO) network are working with grassroots organizations in China, using innovative means to help alleviate some of the country’s problems of environmental degradation. With these partnerships, Chinese citizens are rolling up their sleeves to address many issues, including exploitation of marine life and rampant pesticide use.

In April 2004, Pacific Environment helped found the Save China’s Seas Network, China’s first marine conservation coalition. The Network targets trade in endangered marine life in China’s coastal regions, such as the smuggling of coral and sea turtles from Southeast Asia. It also works to end unsustainable fishing, and channels stories about community environmental work to the national media.

The Internet is the Save China’s Seas Network’s main campaign and communication medium. Not only does the Internet connect groups and ideas in urban and rural areas, but cyberspace provides a realm of freedom for Chinese citizens, who live in a country where authorities often view grassroots movements with suspicion.

“Student groups are really Internet-savvy. They have taken the lead in using the Internet as a tool for campaigning,” says Melinda Kramer, Pacific Environment’s Program Associate. “The Save China’s Seas Network is where much of the hope lies in the Chinese marine environmental movement – politically savvy, strategic, and focused.” Even before the Network emerged, student groups in northeast China orchestrated an Internet campaign to persuade a company in Heilongjiang Province to stop selling endangered turtle and tortoise products.

Such partnerships are also making inroads in environmental policy as Chinese government officials listen more attentively to nature’s warning signs. In the spring of 2004, for instance, a coalition supported by Pacific Environment influenced China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to suspend a dam project on the Nu River in Yunnan Province in southwest China. The dam would have flooded a biodiversity hotspot recently designated a World Heritage site.

Kramer emphasizes the urgency for China to deal with its environmental crises for the good of the entire country. “The rise of living standards in China cannot continue without addressing environmental issues. Chinese citizens are considering this reality and redirecting environmental issues.”

With an established worldwide presence, the Global Fund for Women is now supporting women’s environmental organizations in China focusing on the treatment of farmland and the health ramifications of using pesticides.

“Issues that involve land rights, natural resource management, and land inheritance disproportionately affect women,” says Megan Hauser, program associate for Asia and Oceania with the Global Fund for Women. Hauser commented that in China, where men often leave impoverished rural areas to seek work in cities, farms are frequently left in the hands of women, who bear the brunt of exposure to agricultural chemicals.

The Global Fund for Women is supporting the Shaanxi Volunteer Mothers Association for Environmental Protection, which began in 1997 as the first organization in China to train rural women and children in environmental protection methods. The organization addresses issues such as pollution and recycling, and used a grant to build a clean water system and reservoir for several villages while also training hundreds of women in more sustainable ways of living.

Joining with the Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center in Yunnan, the Global Fund for Women also has funded EcoWomen, the first grassroots group in China specifically organizing women to battle pesticide abuse and to advocate for women’s health and legal rights. Chinese women from academia and the media created EcoWomen (formerly called Green Mountain Women), and grant money went to purchase equipment, build a Web site, and teach women how to grow crops with fewer pesticides.

EcoWomen is planning a December conference in western China and hopes to form a network of organizations working on region-specific issues, such as improving agricultural production on land being damaged by desertification.

This current groundwork will surely lead the BAIDO consortium to become even more involved in tackling many of China’s – and the world’s – most pressing environmental problems.

What you can do: Learn more about BAIDO members' work by visiting the BAIDO Web site.


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