Goldman Environmental Awards Celebrate Grassroots Action
SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - Seven environmental activists from across the world who have led important grassroots efforts to protect the environment and public health were honored Monday in San Francisco with the 14th annual Goldman Environmental Prize. The award winners include Margie Eugene-Richard, a former middle school teacher who fought for environmental justice from Shell Chemical in her hometown of Norco, Louisiana, and who is the first African-American to receive the prestigious prize.
The awards are given annually to grassroots environmentalists from six geographic areas: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. A $125,000 prize is awarded to each areas.
The Goldman Environmental Prize is the largest of its kind and is considered by many to be the "Nobel Prize for the Environment."
Richard, this year's North American winner, grew up only 25 feet away from the fence line of a massive Shell Chemical plant that releases more than two million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air each year.
Four generations of her family have lived in the Old Diamond neighborhood of Norco, Louisiana, located within the area called Cancer Alley.
High rates of cancer, birth defects and other serious health ailments plague the town's 1,500 predominantly African-American residents.
For more than 13 years, Richard led a community campaign that demanded fair and just resettlement costs from Shell for her family and neighbors too impoverished to relocate to a safe area.
In 2002, the 62 year old Richard helped broker an agreement by Shell to cover relocation costs for Old Diamond's residents - the first community relocation victory of its kind in the Deep South of the United States.
The oil and chemical giant also agreed to reduce emissions at the Norco plant by 30 percent.
Richard was joined Monday by two grassroots activists - Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla - from Bhopal, India, who share the prize for Asia for their efforts to hold Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical accountable for the 1984 gas disaster that has claimed more than 20,000 lives to date.
Billed as the world's worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal tragedy injured 500,000 people, and survivors and their children are impoverished and continue to suffer drastic long term effects in the absence of economic rehabilitation measures and appropriate medical care.
The 46 year old Bee and 52 year old Shukla organized the first global hunger strike to draw international attention to Union Carbide's deadly legacy and have traveled the world to protest at Dow shareholder meetings.
The duo are plaintiffs, and a driving force, in a class action suit demanding a clean up of the noxious factory site and damages to cover medical monitoring and costs incurred from years of soil and water contamination.
This year's winner from Africa is public interest lawyer Rudolf Amenga-Etego.
The 40 year old from Ghana, the founder and campaign coordinator for the National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water, has gained international recognition for suspending a major water privatization project backed by the World Bank. He carried out this action as
In 2001 the Ghanaian government, which owes a large debt to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), raised water rates by 95 percent to help pay off this debt. Today, many Ghanaians spend 10 to 20 percent of their income on drinking water, forcing poor urban families to take their children out of school to help cover costs. Three out of four Ghanaians live in poverty and nearly 70 percent have no access to clean, piped water — a crisis that has been linked to 70 percent of all disease in the country, including typhoid, cholera and guinea worm.
The World Bank and IMF have offered to loan Ghana $400 million to rebuild the publicly owned and controlled water system, but to get the money, the government must sell the water at full market rates, and abandon its practice of making wealthy and industrial customers subsidize the cost of water to poor communities. The water must be sold at full market rates.
To fight the threat of water privatization, Amenga-Etego is leading a campaign to make safe, affordable drinking water accessible to all Ghanaians by 2010. His strategy has involved community Right to Water protest rallies as well as public forums that have compelled World Bank officials to confront and debate their critics.
Colombian social worker and activist Libia Grueso has been awarded the Goldman prize for South and Central America for her work in securing more than 5.9 million acres in territorial rights for the country's black rural communities, including those in Colombia's Pacific rainforest.
Grueso, a co-founder of the Process of Black Communities (PCN), is working to protect Colombia's Pacific Coast region. Today, up to 200,000 acres of Pacific rainforest are being destroyed each year by industrial gold mining in an area already devastated by heavy logging.
The power struggle over the coast’s resources has resulted in the displacement of more than one million Afro-Colombians. In some cases, entire villages that have found themselves in the line of fire between government forces and armed outlaws in dispute over territory, agricultural and mineral profits and control of illicit crops.
Today, Grueso and 120 organizations that constitute the PCN are pressuring the Colombian government to take a stronger stand for sustainable development and against measures and militaristic organizations that exacerbate armed conflict.
While in the United States to accept the Goldman Prize, Grueso plans to visit Capitol Hill again to express criticism of the Bush administration’s proposed $618 million in support of Colombia mostly in military aid. She is also critical of the U.S. backed counter drug measure of toxic herbicide fumigation for Colombia and six of its neighbors to eradicate coca.
“Grueso and the PCN have been the most effective in putting into practice an innovative vision and strategy for sustainable development based on the marriage of ecology and culture,” said Enrique Leff Zimmerman, coordinator of the Environmental Training Network for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Environment Programme.
The European winner of the 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize is Manana Kochladze, a 32 year old from Tbilisi, Georgia. ds in Georgia’s recent history.
Kochladze's has battled plans by an international consortium to construct a $3 billion project that would establish the largest oil pipeline in the world, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.
The route would run through the pristine Borjomi mountain gorge, a source of Georgia’s tourism dollars and the source of its culturally and commercially prized mineral water.
Her tenacity in the face of widespread government corruption and multinational industry interests has won critical concessions to protect local villagers and the environment and has forced an examination of the project's environmental and health impact.
The 2004 winner from Asia, Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho, is considered a founding father and environmental hero of East Timor, the world's newest nation.
A former resistance leader during the Indonesian occupation, the 37 year old de Carvalho is credited for spearheading the inclusion of environmental justice tenets in East Timor's constitution. He is now the head of the first and only environmental nongovernmental organization in East Timor.
“It’s not just that Demetrio is heading an environmental group, Haburas is the leading group that has a handle on all of the major development and environmental issues facing East Timor,” says Tim Anderson, a professor of political economy at the University of Sydney who worked with de Carvalho during the country’s transition to independence.
“Demetrio is the one steering the country in a direction of true sustainable development," said Anderson. "He is one of the new leaders of East Timor.”
This is the 15th year for the Goldman Environmental Prize, which was created in 1990 by civic leaders and philanthropists Richard Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda Goldman.
"More than 100 prize recipients from 61 countries have made the Prize representative of the growing environmental movement," said Richard Goldman. "We appreciate the sacrifices they make for all of us in order to gain understanding of the myriad of environmental issues facing us today."
A survey of past recipients reveals that their combined work has positively affected an estimated 102 million people worldwide.
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