In mid-January, the two groups hosted a four-day workshop on citizen advocacy surrounding water and health in Beijing. The event gathered representatives from more than 20 Chinese NGOs, along with government officials, scholars, lawyers and activists. An ABA ROLI- and CANGO-developed reference manual for social policy advocacy on environmental health served as a basis for the workshop and was provided to participants.
The workshop featured both substantive presentations on issues surrounding policy advocacy and interactive sessions designed to facilitate peer-to-peer relationships. Experts presented on a variety of topics, including how local NGOs and civil society practitioners can influence and shape water policy and how NGOs can work with government entities and with scholars to exert greater influence in the policy-making process.
The event is timely, as NGOs and civil society are playing an increasingly prominent role in addressing China’s serious water scarcity and pollution problems, including their impact on health. Studies have shown that the majority of China’s cities have polluted groundwater, and that most of the country’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs are unfit for human use. This water pollution has a tremendous impact on the availability of safe drinking water and on public health.
Under these circumstances, Chinese citizens need organizations that can provide information about environmental laws and public participation outlets, monitor potential polluters and respond to citizen needs when water pollution disasters occur. As civil society in China continues to develop and political openings emerge, NGOs have a unique and powerful role to play in advocating for reforms that aim to prevent pollution and in protecting citizens’ health and rights in the event of a disaster.
A significant portion of the Beijing workshop was dedicated to identifying opportunities for NGOs to addressing these challenges, with participants suggesting ideas, discussing their feasibility and, ultimately, developing action plans for selected proposals. You can view presentations of selected proposals here.
After Zhou Xiang’s manual proposal was selected, he and other participants spent an afternoon developing an action plan, ultimately constructing a content outline and identifying potential partners for the project. During the last day of the event, representatives from the Society for Entrepreneurship and Ecology expressed an interest in funding the project. Zhou was ecstatic that his long-held hope to develop the manual was much closer to becoming a reality—thanks to the passion and ideas contributed by other workshop participants.
Several attendees expressed their appreciation for the workshop’s networking opportunities, which allowed for deeper understanding of the perspectives held by varying stakeholders. The workshop was part of a Rockefeller Brothers Fund-supported program to develop a social policy advocacy coalition in China. Future projects include providing technical and financial support for two NGO pilot projects in the area of environmental health advocacy.