Laura Huang, 2010 winner
Laura Juan Huang of RFA’s Mandarin service was recognized for her 2009 environmental program “Guardian of the River Huai,” the story of Huo Daishan, a photojournalist turned environmentalist, who conducted a one-man crusade to save China’s third largest river.
Throughout history the River Huai kept the farmland along its banks lush and fertile, its water dotted with white sails and teeming with fish. By the 1990s, however, breakneck economic and industrial growth had wreaked such environmental damage along the river that this ancient paradise on earth had turned into a home to scores of cancer villages. In just one village with a population of 2,500, hundreds died of cancer between 1990 and 2005. Among those who succumbed was a childhood friend of photojournalist Huo Daishan.
Huang told the story of Huo’s often lonely quest to halt pollution and put an end to the cancer villages along the beloved river of his childhood. In his fight against a major industrial polluter, Huo was beaten and threatened. But over time, the publicity he generated shamed local officials and spurred local governments into action.
Taking on a sensitive subject inside China, Huang gave this sad story a human face as she told Huo’s often lonely, arduous crusade to save the beloved river of his childhood and how he achieved rare success despite repeated threats and obstruction from local officials. She documented the environmentalist’s struggle to stem the environmental impact of China’s rapid development has had on the river and the people who live near it.
Over time, publicity to the plight of the cancer villages shamed local governments into action. The story of Huo, the “Guardian of the River Huai,” constitutes one of the rare successes of Chinese environmentalists.
“Huang’s persistence in reaching a wide range of sources, including both ordinary people and officials in order to highlight this tragic situation, demonstrates her courage and integrity as a journalist,” said BBG Governor Blanquita Cullum.