Monday, August 3, 2009

2009 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Announced

Ma Jun
Ramon Magsaysay Awardee 2009

Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2009, Manila, Philippines

Water is now a major issue in China, where majority of the rivers and lakes are polluted, and four hundred of its six hundred cities are facing water shortages. The problem has serious repercussions for health, food security, biodiversity, and economic growth. With rapid industrialization and urbanization, the problem has become even more critical. Ma Jun is using creative and constructive ways to address the pollution crisis.

Forty-one year-old Ma joined the Beijing bureau of South China Morning Post after finishing his university studies in English and journalism. As he traveled the country and wrote reports, he saw how China's economic boom was taking a destructive toll on the environment. In 1999, he published his book on China's Water Crisis, which has been hailed as China's "first great environmental call to arms." In it, Ma warned: "Sixty percent of our rivers are polluted, the proliferation of dams destroys ecosystems, our air quality is deplorable. This is simply unbearable."

After leaving South China Morning Post, he worked as an environmental consultant, then went to Yale University and did comparative research on environmental governance in the US and China. His experiences as a journalist and scholar deepened his understanding of the environmental issues and how to deal with them in China's specific economic and political context. He concluded that active, meaningful "public participation is the key to dealing with [China's] environmental problems" and that access to information is the precondition for such participation.

Thus, in 2006, he established the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and launched the China Water Pollution Map, the first public database of water pollution information in China. The database is a facility accessible in and outside China, using official data from various government agencies in charge of water resources and environment protection. Through the digital map, with the click of a button, people can survey the water quality in specific rivers and lakes all over the country, monitor pollution discharges, and find out which companies discharge pollution exceeding statutory levels. In a strategy of "name and shame," thirty-five thousand records of violations by corporations have been posted in the map to date.

Ma expanded his work in 2007 with the China Air Pollution Map. Providing public access to air quality data, it has already named over ten thousand companies violating emission standards. Together with the water pollution database, this map has dramatically increased public awareness of the state of China's environmental pollution.

But Ma and his organization do not just "name and shame;" they also proactively help companies resolve their pollution management problems. Polluters are removed from the offenders' list after professional, third-party audits have shown that they have made changes to improve their company's pollution control. To complement its database program, IPE, together with twenty other NGOs, has organized the Green Choice Alliance, which works on supply chain management systems by getting corporations to openly commit not to use polluters as suppliers of products or services. Leading multinationals like General Electric, Wal-Mart, and Nike which have made such a commitment are using the IPE database regularly to track the performance of their suppliers in China.

It is Ma's fervent belief that public knowledge exerts pressure on government and corporations to act. Taking advantage of the government's greater openness to public participation in environmental protection, he has introduced initiatives that are both constructive and realistic. For this reason, his work is exerting a unique influence on environmental practices in China. Ma says that the next twenty years is a critical period for his country. "We need to make sure that this generation of Chinese has the best environmental health standards. We need to keep the best of our natural and cultural heritage, and hand it over to the next generation."

In electing Ma Jun to receive the 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his harnessing the technology and power of information to address China's water crisis, and mobilizing pragmatic, multisectoral and collaborative efforts to ensure sustainable benefits for China's environment and society.

Yu Xiaogang
Ramon Magsaysay Awardee 2009

CITATION for Yu Xiaogang
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2009, Manila, Philippines

China boasts of a staggering eighty-five thousand dams throughout the country, or 46 percent of all such structures in the world. Clearly, hydropower is a key requirement for China's economic development. Yet dams have led as well to the displacement of over fifteen million Chinese and incalculable damage to the natural environment. A leading figure in the debate on dams and their social impact is Yu Xiaogang.

Yu fell in love with nature early on, having been raised in Yunnan, a province of amazing beauty and home to three of the largest rivers in the world: Nu, Yangtze, and Mekong. His interest in the environment was cultivated during a stint in the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, and was further deepened when he attended the Asian Institute of Technology, where he earned a master's degree in watershed management.

His graduate research on the social impact of China's Manwan hydroelectric project documented its negative impact on local communities. Dissemination of his findings stirred controversy and led then Premier Zhu Rongji to order the conduct of an investigation; additionally, the Yunnan government was instructed to release funds to mitigate the dam's adverse effects.

In 2002, Yu established the nonprofit organization Green Watershed, which developed an integrated watershed management program in the Lashi Lake area, in Yunnan. Lashi was seriously affected by a dam project that had diverted 40 percent of the lake's water, flooded farmlands, and devastated the livelihood of people in the dammed area. Using participatory approaches, Green Watershed helped the affected communities organize a multisectoral Watershed Management Committee, and mobilized village associations for irrigation, fishery, and other purposes. The communities undertook other activities as well, including microcredit and training in watershed forest protection and biodiversity conservation.

These initiatives proved so successful that new, ecologically-friendly, and profitable enterprises flourished in the area. The first of its kind in China, the Lashi project became a model for participatory watershed management, and was cited by government as one of the top ten cases of sustainable development in the country. The Lashi project became the springboard for Yu's advocacy in other dam sites. Green Watershed conducted research and forums and used mass media to promote the cause of people's participation in the planning and development of dams.

When the local government announced plans to build thirteen new dams on the Nu River, plans that threatened to displace fifty thousand people and negatively impact a UNESCO-designated "World Heritage" nature site, Green Watershed and other environmental NGOs mounted a public debate. The controversy occasioned Premier Wen Jiabao's decision to put the planned dams on hold, requiring a more scientific study.

Still, it has been an uphill challenge. Yu has met with opposition and even harassment in the course of his work, including a ban on travel outside the country. His position, however, is not simply adversarial. In 2008, he initiated Green Banking, a network of eight major environmental NGOs that gives the "Green Banking Innovation Award" to banks and financial institutions that have contributed to environmental protection in their financing and corporate practices.

Yu recognizes that large-scale infrastructure projects like dams will go on. He is not against dams per se; however he and his fellow environmentalists will persist in showing that local communities and ecosystems need not be sacrificed in the process of development. Thus, he advocates that a true social impact assessment, in which the people themselves are actively involved, should be a precondition in all dam building programs. For Yu, their initial successes "are only the first steps in the Long March. To realize true sustainable development and build a harmonious society throughout China, we need the full participation of all Chinese citizens."

In electing Yu Xiaogang to receive the 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his fusing the knowledge and tools of social science with a deep sense of social justice, in assisting dam-affected communities in China to shape the development projects that impact their natural environment and their lives.

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