China saw the All China Environment Federation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) with the most extensive variety of members designed to protect the environment, founded here on Friday.
The federation, which includes government officials, other environmentalist social organizations, enterprises and ecologists,is expected to serve as a bridge linking the public and the government and to rally all possible social forces to fight China's worsening pollution.
Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan encouraged the federation to further study the major ecological problems and offer better consultation to government decision-makers, while attending its founding ceremony.
Li Hengyuan, the federation's vice secretary-general, said thatChina now has more than 2,000 environmental protection NGOs, but most are limited in influence.
"Our federation will not only favor communication between public and government departments but also help various NGOs exchange ideas. It is also open to environmentalists from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and foreign countries," Li said.
China has witnessed rapid economic development since initiatingmarket reform and opening up which has helped continuously enhance people's living standards, but also has resulted in pollution and environmental damage.
Official statistics show that 90 percent of the rivers flowing across China are polluted and 75 percent of lakes have once suffered eutrophication. Nearly 300 million rural residents drink water not up to sanitary standards and one third of urban residents are wrapped in severely polluted air environments. More than 30 percent of the country is likely to be hit by acid rain.
"It requires us to take resolute measures. Otherwise, environmental problems may efface the economic achievements, endanger the people's health, affect the social stability and evencause irremediable losses," said Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA).
Sources from the administration show that complaint letters received by environment protection departments all over China haverisen by 30 percent annually in the last three years. In 2003 alone, letters complaining of pollution amounted to over 500,000 and people made 85,000 petition visits to the administration.
"It reflects an increasing awareness of environmental protection among the masses, who are now standing up to safeguard their rights over environmental issues," Li Hengyuan said.
On March 22 of this year, World Water Day, Zhang Zhengchun, a professor with Lanzhou University in northwest China's Gansu Province, toured Beijing's Yuangmingyuan Garden, a world-famous cultural heritage site, and discovered by accident that workers were lining the lake bed with a plastic membrane.
He considered it downright damage to Yuanmingyuan's overall ecosystem and exposed the issue to the media immediately, which provoked public outcry and prompted SEPA to hold China's first public hearing over an environmental issue on April 13.
The increase of environmental awareness among the public has led to the mushrooming of environmental protection NGOs.
In mid 1990s, these NGOs, still at their initial stages, were mainly engaged in environmental education. In recent years, they have started to participate in the government's policy-making process, such as making proposals on the legislation in renewable energy and on how to make the 2008 Olympic Games "green."
"They, to a large degree, act as the 'spokespersons' for the public," said Wang Ming, director of the NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Surendra Shrestha, head of the United Nations Environment Program Asia Pacific Regional Office, hopes that the newly founded federation will also serve as a connection between China and the international community over environmental issues.