Environmental Heroes Win Goldman Prize
people from six countries awarded this most
A Bolivian labor leader who won the world's first major victory in the struggle over privatizing public water; two US journalists who risked their careers to expose the dangers of genetically-altered milk; a Rwandan who fought to save mountain gorillas amidst his country's genocidal wars; a New Caledonian activist working to protect his island's coral reefs threatened by nickel mining; an indigenous leader from Indonesia fighting to preserve tropical rainforests from destruction by a huge gold-mining operation; two Greek biologists working to save vast wetlands in the Balkans. These eight environmental activists from around the globe were awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for 2001.
Victory Over Water Privatisation
Oscar Olivera, a Bolivian labor leader, has become an advocate for universal rights to affordable clean water. In 1999, the Bolivian Government reacted to pressure from international financial institutions by selling the public water system of Cochabamba, its third-largest city, to a US corporation. The corporation immediately raised water rates to the point where many families were paying up to one-third of their income for water. Finding this intolerable, Olivera led a coalition that took citizens to the streets in their 10s of thousands to bring the city to a halt for days. After a brutal government crackdown forced him into hiding, he emerged and continued protests and negotiations that forced the government to cancel the sale. Water was deprivatized and returned to local control, and the rules were changed to incorporate and respect the demands of rural populations. Olivera's coalition continues working to develop a water system that relies neither on corrupt government management nor on transnational corporations.
Says Olivera: "After 15 years of structural adjustment, when we thought that the most important human values had been wrested from us, when we thought we were incapable of overcoming fear, of having the ability to organize and unite, when we no longer believed we could make our voices heard, then our humble, simple, and hard-working people - men, women, children and the elderly - demonstrated to the country and to the world that all this is still possible."
Revealing The Risks Of Genetically Altered Milks
Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two television journalists from Florida, USA, researched the potential health risks of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), the genetically modified hormone injected into US dairy cows to stimulate milk production. Although the hormone was banned in Europe, Japan and most other industrialized nations, millions of Americans are unknowingly drinking milk from rBGH-treated cows. Akre and Wilson uncovered studies raising the possibility of the hormone's link to breast, prostate and colon cancer in humans. Their television station refused to air the story after Monsanto, the hormone manufacturer, threatened the station's owner, Fox News, with "dire consequences" if the story was broadcast. The couple were eventually fired from their jobs. They filed, and won, a lawsuit against Fox News, run by Rupert Murdoch, for violating Florida's Whistleblower Law, which makes it illegal to take any retaliatory action against a worker who threatens to expose employer misconduct. Fox News is appealing the decision in court.
According to Akre: "As a mother and a journalist, I know we all have the right to information to help us make important decisions about what we pour on our children's cereal each morning. All journalists have a duty to shed light on important issues in the public interest, even when that information runs counter to governments and industry, who would rather operate in their own self-interest."
Adds Wilson: "No issue is ever addressed and nothing ever changes for the better until the facts are known. Jane and I merely did our best to do what good journalists have always tried to do: uncover the facts and report them without fear or favor to special interests. But, sadly, the truth is that in more and more newsrooms these days, reporters are getting the message that putting the public interest first is not always the fastest way to career advancement."
Saving Rwanda's Mountain Gorillas
Eugene Rutagarama is a conservationist who risked his life to save Rwanda's dwindling population of mountain gorillas. Only 650 mountain gorillas, the world's rarest primate, survive worldwide. Some 355 of them live in the tropical forests in the Volcano National Park in the Virunga Mountains that span three countries: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. Rutagarama was forced to flee Rwanda during the massacres of the 1990s, when most of his family were killed. As soon as possible, he returned to rebuild the national park system and protect the gorilla habitat from human encroachment as the government resettled millions of refugees. Now working with the nonprofit group International Gorilla Conservation Program, Rutagarama oversees gorilla conservation activities in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. He has successfully lobbied governmental officials in the three nations to make sure that environmental issues are not forgotten as leaders struggle to rebuild the region.
Says Rutagarama: "After a humanitarian disaster as horrific as genocide, the common struggle to preserve something of shared value, like the natural environment, can form an ideal for people to believe in. The opportunity and obligation to protect something precious can assist the reconstruction of a devastated society."
Saving Island Coral Reefs
Bruno Van Peteghem, a resident of New Caledonia (in the South Pacific, east of Australia), is working against time and mining interests to protect one of the world's largest coral reefs from destruction. International mining companies are ready to dig up and pollute huge portions of the reefs as they introduce new, highly toxic practices. Van Peteghem is leading a campaign to place the reef on the World's Heritage List - the reef's best hope for permanent protection. A successful island environmental activist since the early 1990s, he has confronted severe intimidation and abuse including the suspicious burning of his family's home.
According to Van Peteghem: "Man and nature are inseparable. If we ignore this, we perish. Survival of the coral hinges on human activities everywhere - on land, in the sea and in the atmosphere. We still have time."
"Man and nature are inseparable. If we ignore this we perish."
Protecting Tropical Rainforests
Yosepha Alomang, an indigenous woman of West Papua (Irian Jaya, Indonesia), has organized resistance to the destruction caused by the world's largest gold mining operation, set amidst at-risk virgin tropical rainforests. She has been detained, placed in inhumane confinement, and tortured for her efforts. Her ethnic group has declared independence to gain control over their resources, and their actions have been met with repressive and violent government action. Regardless of these dangers, she continues to shepherd projects promoting traditional cultures, collective action and the well-being of indigenous people in West Papua.
Says Alomang: "The land is like a mother, from the sea to the mountain. We live with our land. We can't sell the mountain to outsiders. I have said I will die for my people and my land."
Preserving Wetlands In The Balkans
Giorgos Catsadorakis and Myrsini Malakou, two Greek biologists, led the charge to create a crucial wetlands conservation area located in remote northwestern Greece, adjacent to the borders of Albania and Macedonia (former Yugoslavia). Few areas in Europe of comparable size are as biologically rich and diverse. Post-World War II development degraded the wetlands, and transformed the traditional way of life of the region's people. Catsadorakis and Malakou worked for years researching, organizing and advocating sustainable farming and economic activities to restore this precious area. Their hard work paid off in 2000 when Albania, Macedonia and Greece jointly created the first trans-boundary protected area in the Balkans, an area better known for conflict than co-operation.
Says Catsadorakis: "There is a huge single challenge to the modern world: humans must define what prosperity means on a healthy planet capable of sustaining all equally. The effort to find this optimal modus vivendi has no borders, and natural entities must be used to inspire, enrich, empower and unite peoples."