November 29th, 2010 | China Daily Eco charities face challenges
A herdsman kisses a little camel in Alxa Right Banner, Inner Mongolia. China’s environmental organizations try to protect endangered creatures, but many of them are still struggling for survival due to lack of funds. [China Daily]
Although China’s environmental organizations have a proud history, many are struggling for survival through lack of funds.
Take 60-year-old Liu Detian, for example. He constantly frowns and sighs when talking about finances, his biggest obsession for almost 20 years.
His organization, Saunders’ Gull Conservation Society, based in Panjin, Liaoning province, aims to protect the habitat of the black-headed, endangered birds. It was established in 1991 and is among the oldest of China’s environmental organizations.
“About 200,000 yuan ($30,114) is needed every year to run the society, most of which is my own money,” said Liu, who has worked as a journalist at Panjin Daily for decades.
“It’s such a big sum for a journalist,” he said. “So I dragged my son, who works in the hotel industry, into this bottomless money-demanding task.”
As a result of Liu and his followers’ work, the population of Saunders’ gulls in Panjin has expanded from 1,200 to 8,000, accounting for more than 70 percent of the world’s population. About 40,000 hectares of the birds’ habitats have escaped developers’ attention.
Despite the remarkable achievement, the society cannot get funds from either the government or businesses.
Shao Rongrong, communication officer of the Institute for Environment and Development, an environmental organization founded in 1994 which is dedicated to data analysis and policy research, said funding is its most urgent concern.
“All civilian society organizations lack funding. It is just that environmental organizations are even more in need because we work on behalf of the future generation, whose demands cannot be seen in the short term,” said Ye Weijia, head of the Institute for Environment and Development.
The number of people working for civilian environmental societies in China shot up from 220,000 to 330,000 in the past five years.
Zeng Xiaodong, vice-chairman and secretary-general of the All-China Environment Federation, revealed the figure at the 2010 annual meeting of Chinese environmental civil society organizations (ECSOs) on sustainable development in Hangzhou on Nov 12.
Ye did not derive the same satisfaction as Zeng did over the increased number. Instead, he said many environmental organizations in China operate as temporary choices for the young as they go about the tough task of job-hunting.
“Although the number of people in this so-called industry is growing, the scale is mostly very small, ” Ye told China Daily. He added that about 80 to 90 percent of the organizations have fewer than five staff members. “We need bigger and more influential organizations to bring about a real industry boom,” he said.
Despite all the difficulties, the level of environmental organizations’ funding has not affected the size of their hearts.
Environment-related assignments in the central government’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) accomplished more than all previous five-year plans, Lu Xinyuan, general engineer of the Ministry of Environment Protection, said at the Hangzhou meeting.
In his speech, Lu spoke highly of the vital role played by environmental organizations, saying their influence was “irreplaceable by the government” in educating the public, defending their environmental rights, and raising society’s environmental awareness.
But Ye, from the Institute for Environment and Development, said the government and society at large did not give enough support in return for all that has been achieved by environmental organizations.
“In Germany, about 30 to 40 percent of environmental organizations’ funds come from the government,” he said.
Money is not the only form of important aid. Ye said the government could also show support by creating favorable tax policies to encourage businesses to donate.
Zeng, from the All-China Environment Federation, said the government is looking at all sorts of cooperation with environmental organizations to solve the country’s ecological issues apart from offering cash directly. “It is not realistic considering their number right now,” Zeng said.
“We hope civilian environmental societies can stand on their own feet by launching projects, both domestically and internationally.”
Some environmental organizations supported Zeng’s opinion, blaming the lack of funds on the ineffectiveness of some organizations.
The Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology, one of the legally registered organizations and one of the few organizations that has no money worries, is also a foundation.
It has provided financial aid to 20 ECSOs and 40 projects since it was founded in 2008.
“Lack of money is indeed a problem, but what’s more scarce is the ability to spend the money wisely,” said Ma Yanyan, who works in the nongovernmental cooperation department at the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology.
“The low proficiency of staff members results in bad management, which easily leads to project failure and then to difficulties in applying for more funds,” Ma told China Daily.