Final Blog: Waterkeepers in China
After Beijing we flew to Xiangfan, in the middle of China, and spent two days trying to keep up with the amazing 70 year old force of nature otherwise known as the Middle Han Waterkeeper, Yun Jianli. She can call the radio and announce a river cleanup one day and 1000 people will show up on the riverbank the next day to help out. Last year when she did this, she told me only that we were going to take part in a little river cleanup, and when we arrived to the sight of 1000 people, she promptly announced to them that I was from Waterkeeper Alliance and was going to give them a speech. I was thankful for the help of a translator, since I certainly couldn't give an entire speech in Mandarin.
Our final stop was the city of Lanzhou, way out in western China, in a province called Gansu. Gansu is right next to Qinghai, where the big earthquake just happened. We did not feel anything, since Yushi is 1000 km from here. Lanzhou was unlike anything we had ever seen before. It is one of the most polluted cities in China. We spent two days there touring villages along the Yellow River on the outskirts of the city with two very dedicated local environmental advocates. In Lanzhou the landscape is a moonscape, with mile after mile of lead smelters, coal mines, steel smelters, fertilizer and chemical factories and coal fired power plants. We walked through toxic slag, watched it waft onto our shoes and pants, and probably into our nostrils. We saw every color in the tributaries running from these villages to the Yellow River, from green to yellow to brown and black. The small rivers in these villages receive runoff from every kind of production. We saw villages with small children playing in the streets under belching smokestacks and next to electricity transfer stations. Our advocate friends, Zhao Zhong and Ran Liping with the help of several volunteers, are taking on the monumental task of raising awareness among the local population of the magnitude of Lanzhou’s pollution problems. They are also attempting to bring about change through the use of electronic media and through cooperation with local environmental officials and other NGOs. We are truly inspired by their untiring dedication to their river and their community.