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WKU faculty members attend China environmental justice workshop

Two faculty from WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology recently returned from southwestern China as invited lecturers in a workshop on environmental justice supported by a grant from the U.S. State Department to the Vermont Law School’s U.S.-China Partnership in Environmental Law.

Local Zhuang women wash clothes near one of two main discharge points for Lingshui Spring.

Expanding into new directions for WKU’s China Environmental Health Project (CEHP), Jason Polk and Leslie North of the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute helped implement a two-day environmental workshop for local people and government officials to understand the workings of the Lingshui Spring water supply in southwest China’s Guangxi Autonomous Region.  Some 100,000 people rely on the spring as their sole water source.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  Conditions fall way short throughout the world, disproportionally for both rural and urban poor. In southwest China this particularly impacts indigenous minority nationalities such as the Zhuang people that dominate the area around Lingshui Spring.

The workshop, Training and Communication on Understanding and Protecting Groundwater in Wuming County, was organized by Guo Fang and Jiang Guanghui of the International Research Center on Karst in Guilin. The goal of the workshop was to educate and engage local citizens and government leaders to understand and develop better water protection strategies to protect public health, particularly for the disadvantaged rural poor.

Dr. Jason Polk and Leslie North of WKU pose with Dr. Guo Fang from the IRCK (fifth from left), and officials from the Wuming County government political consultative, Guangxi Autonomous Region government, and the Chinese Geological Survey.

More than 200 people attended the workshop, including local citizens, Wuming County government leaders, members from the Wuming County political consultative conference, representatives of six county-level environmental and tourism bureaus, and graduate students from four Chinese universities. Dr. Polk and Ms. North gave lectures on the intersections of karst and groundwater science, education, and policy, providing examples from the U.S. on research, informal learning strategies, public outreach, and U.S. policy and regulation implementation.

As an interesting historical note, local government leaders tasked relevant staff to go back through the historical records of Wuming County while preparing for the workshop, and it was determined that the event represented the most attention that the spring had generated for at least 1,000 years.

“China has become a key player in WKU’s internationalization strategies, and our department, through the Hoffman Institute, has developed meaningful and long-lasting research and teaching relationships with Chinese partners,” noted Dr. David Keeling, Geography and Geology Department Head. “This visit to China by Dr. Polk and Ms. North builds on those important global relationships and opens up important new opportunities for research collaboration in the region.”

Contact: Dr. Chris Groves, CEHP Director (chris.groves@wku.edu), Dr. Jason S. Polk (jason.polk@wku.edu) or Leslie North (leslie.north@wku.edu) at (270) 745-4555.

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