by Brendan Snow adapted by Daniela Salaverry for Pacific Environment

Daniela Salaverry
Green Camel Bell’s dedicated leaders

Green Camel Bell (GCB), is working to protect Gansu’s forests, wildlife and rivers, and to raise awareness and establish ties to like-minded groups. In a region marked by a lag in development, a lack of networks, and ethnic divisions, GCB is pushing past these barriers and generating an informed and involved environmental advocacy association. In a place where environmentalist activity is almost completely absent, GCB has served as a beacon of hope to others with ambitions of sustainable development and environmental protection.

Western China has fallen behind the East. Unlike the coastal provinces, it lacks development, infrastructure, and opportunity. In response to this, the Chinese government has launched a West China Development Plan, in hopes of combating this situation. The Plan will bring “infrastructure construction, ecological protection and construction, human resources development, science and technology, education and social development, industrial structure adjustment and [open western China] to the outside world.”

Green Camel Bell, a name derived from the Silk-Road caravans that traveled through western China, is based in Lanzhou, Gansu.  It was organized in November 2004 by various university students who wished to create a network for student environmental associations (SEAs) and advance environmental causes within Gansu and surrounding provinces. Mr. Zhao Zhong, a veteran of Green Anhui in Hefei, is spearheading the organization as a volunteer.

A positive shift happened for GCB in May, 2006 the group took part in the restorative efforts surrounding the pollution accident that happened to a Lanzhou petrification company. “It’s the first time we acted as a local environmental NGO in such things. It’s a great transition,” says Zhao. GCB is based in a regional environmental resource center and acts as a jumping off point for others with interests in the environment or NGO work.

GCB also works with other environmental protection groups in Gansu, and facilitates the growth and success of partners in advocacy. From their environmental education project, to the Gansu Green Camp for undergraduates, to the animal rights efforts in Lanzhou Zoo, to the protection of the Saiga antelope, GCB is indeed fulfilling its role as a regional hub and resource for environmental groups.

GCB is making headway not only on the environmental protection front, but is breaking down socio-cultural barriers as well, by building bridges between many different ethnic groups. Northwestern China is home to the Hui people, the Tibetans, and the Dongxiang people, among others. Green Camel Bell’s team is composed of individuals from the Han, Tibetan, Hui, Mao, and Man ethnic groups. Since 2005, GCB has visited the Tibetan region twice, and has developed a good relationship with the Muslim culture in Lanzhou.

Green Camel Bell is a true example of the success that grassroots movements can achieve. What began as a few passionate students at universities sprinkled throughout the Gansu province has grown quickly into an environmental protection stronghold in that region. Green Camel Bell will continue to do all it can to ensure that development in western China is sustainable.

Pacific Environment works with Green Camel Bell to address water pollution. In 2006, Green Camel Bell hired a full-time water pollution organizer to investigate the source and severity of the pollution of the Yellow River near Lanzhou as well as organize small-scale forums and trainings with scientists, media, government, and NGOs to discuss strategies for water pollution work.

In March 2007, Daniela Salaverry, Pacific Environment’s China Program Co-Director spend several days with Green Camel Bell staff and volunteers exploring the Gansu countryside and learning more about the organization’s work. Please click here for a photo gallery from this trip.