Sunday, May 1, 2011

Up the Yellow River to Lanzhou's Green Camel Bell

The City of Lanzhou is long and narrow, snaking along the Yellow River for 15 miles where it flows between mountains.  Here we met Liping Ran of the NGO Green Camel Bell, whose mission is “green mountains, clear water, blue sky, man and nature in harmony.”  The camel is an animal well-adapted to its environment, the bell is for good fortune and green is for a sustainable future.
The NGO was founded by Zhao Zhong, a young physicist who received a Time Magazine “Heroes of the Environment” award in 2009.  Their full-time staff of 6 people works with interns and volunteers on a wide variety of projects ranging from grass brick construction, eco-toilets, sustainable agriculture, environmental education, and community development.  Liping was most proud of her project to improve drinking water quality in the small village of Liangjiawan.  A new dam on the Yellow River near the village had greatly reduced water flow.  The village's water intake pump became too close to water contaminated with sewage.  Green Camel Bell helped organize the village leaders to ask for changes and secured water purifiers for the village homes and a new water pipe to the village.

We went up the river with Liping to another village dealing with similar problems--a new dam and insufficient maintenance of the village's well-water pipes (one lady told us they broke after 2 years and were never fixed), forcing the people to take water directly from the polluted river.  The villagers either pumped it from the river or hauled water in buckets for their daily needs.  The river is not clean.  The young baby we met, and all the others, deserve better.  Liping's next step will be to contact village leaders to begin working towards a solution.

            Green Camel Bell is a pioneering group in China, helping to effect change in attitudes towards the environment.  Liping told us the staff is all unmarried, completely dedicated to their work, and that it is sometimes hard to explain the value of that work to friends and family in the present Chinese culture.  The day we left, Liping would travel north to Wuwei, a city on the 38th parallel, to start another water quality investigation.
            On our last afternoon, Liping showed us the ancient waterwheels designed to lift water high above the banks for irrigation, ingeniously powered by the flowing river.  At one point, the city had over 200 wheels.
    The Upper Yellow River at Lonzhou is lined with factories, spanned by dozens of small hydroelectric dams, and is home to millions of people.  Liping and Green Camel Bell are hopeful they can teach people to respect and care for their Mother River in the Waterwheel City of Lanzhou. 

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