Goldman Environmental Prize Winners for 2001
Goldman Environmental Prize Winners for 2001 Announced
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CRUSADING JOURNALISTS AMONG THIS YEAR'S GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL PRIZE WINNERS
World's Largest Award for Grassroots Environmentalists
Two American journalists who risked their careers to expose the dangers of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), a Rwandan who fought to save mountain gorillas amidst his country's genocidal wars, and a Bolivian worker who won the world's first major victory in the struggle over privatizing public water, are winners of the 12th annual Goldman Environmental Prize, to be awarded on April 23, 2001.
They are among eight environmental heroes from around the globe who will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The award, given in six geographical categories, includes a prize of $125,000 from the Goldman Environmental Foundation. (Two of this year's categories have two winners each.)
The total of $750,000 is given annually to grassroots heroes from North America, Africa, South/Central America, Asia, Europe, and Island Nations. Seventy-one previous Goldman Prize winners have successfully defended the safety and health of their homelands from destructive government projects and practices, multinational corporations, corrupt leaders, international financial institutions, and even the destruction of wars. The Goldman Prize allows many to continue their work and expand public awareness of what are often life-and-death environmental crises.
This year's winners are:
- North America - Jane Akre and Steve Wilson: Two TV journalists who researched the potential health risks of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone)-the genetically modified hormone injected into U.S. dairy cows to stimulate milk production. The hormone is among of the first genetically modified products approved by the FDA. It is banned in Europe, Japan and most other industrialized nations. Their resulting story proved too hot for the local TV network affiliate for which it was produced and ultimately led to their firing.
- Africa - Eugene Rutagarama: A conservationist who risked his life to save Rwanda's last 355 mountain gorillas. He was forced to flee Rwanda during the massacres of the 1990s, during which most of his family was 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. While his country was overrun with brutality and murder, he risked his life to save the silent victims of this genocidal war.
- South America - Oscar Olivera: A Bolivian labor leader who became 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 one of its largest cities to a U.S. corporation. The corporation immediately raised water rates to the point where many families were paying up to a third of their income for water. Finding this intolerable, he led a coalition that took to the streets in the tens 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.
- Asia - Yosepha Alomang: An indigenous woman of West Papua (Irian Jaya, Indonesia) who has organized resistance to the destruction of the world's largest gold mining operation, set amidst at-risk virgin tropic 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.
- Europe -Myrsini Malakou and Giorgos Catsadorakis: Two Greek biologists who 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 other 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 people in the region. The Prize recipients worked for years researching, organizing, and advocating sustainable farming and economic activities to restore this precious area. Their hard work paid off last year when Albania, Macedonia, and Greece jointly created the first trans-boundary protected area in the Balkans, an area better known for conflict than cooperation.
- Island Nations - Bruno Van Peteghem: A New Caledonia (in the South Pacific east of Australia) resident working against time and mining interests to protect one of the world's coral reefs from destruction. International companies are ready to dig up and pollute huge portions of the reefs as they introduce new, highly toxic mining 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.
"The world is getting smaller, and the need is growing for everyone to take responsibility for keeping our planet healthy," said Richard N. Goldman, founder of the Goldman Environmental Prize. "The winners this year illustrate how the environment is affected by wars, international business, economic policies, and the tendency to put short-term gains ahead of long term solutions. They also illustrate how the courage and commitment of a single visionary individual can make a difference for generations to come."
The first Goldman Environmental Prizes were awarded in 1990 by Mr. Goldman and his late wife Rhoda H. Goldman. Mrs.Goldman was a descendant of Levi Strauss, the founder of the worldwide clothing company that bears his name. Mr. Goldman is Chairman of Goldman Insurance Services in San Francisco.
On April 25, Mr. Goldman will receive the National Geographic Society Chairman's Award in recognition of his "exemplary contributions to every aspect of conservation and global environmental awareness." The last time the Society presented this award was 1995 to Lady Bird Johnson and Laurence Rockefeller.
Goldman Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a network of over 20 environmental organizations and individuals representing nearly 50 nations. The Goldman Prize is the world's largest award for environmental activists. In addition to the cash award, recipients travel to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony and presentation, press conferences, media briefings, and meetings with political, public policy, financial and environmental leaders.
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Live Webcaset of the Prize ceremony on April 23: This event, including 3-minute speeches by the winners and 5-minute videos on their work, can be seen live at www.goldmanprize.org on April 23, 5:00 p.m., Pacific Time.
ATTENTION EDITORS: Backgrounders and photos of all winners are available. Broadcast-quality video of the Goldman Prize winners has been shot in their home countries and is available.
FOR BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE PRIZE AND PREVIOUS WINNERS
2001 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipients
Eugene Rutagarama, Rwanda
The human suffering in Rwanda during the 1990s was incalculable. But few outsiders realize that without intervention, the innocent victims of war might also have included the most endangered of humanity's close relatives - mountain gorillas.
Mountain gorillas are the world's rarest primates. Only approximately 650 of them survive worldwide, 355 of them in the tropical forests in the Volcano National Park in the Virunga Mountains straddling three countries: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. In addition, the tri-national Volcano National Park is surrounded by rapidly growing villages and farmlands, presenting a constant conservation challenge.
Despite the presence of troops in the park, refugees moving through the mountains, and enormous pressure to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees in protected areas, Rutagarama helped ensure that Rwanda's critical gorilla habitat remained protected.
His commitment, leadership and courage ensured that the fragile mountain gorilla population in the Virungas survived the wars of the 1990s and current conflicts in the DRC. Indeed, it grew by 11 percent since 1989.
Political and ethnic conflicts have long been part of Rwanda's history. Identified as a Tutsi, Eugene Rutagarama, 45, has endured a lifetime of persecution from extremists among the country's Hutus. He was forced to flee the country five times between 1960 and 1991. In 1990 while conducting botanical surveys, Rutagarama was captured and imprisoned by the Hutu government. In 1991, when rebels attacked the town of Ruhengeri in northern Rwanda and freed the prisoners, Rutagarama fled with his family to Burundi. Committed to conservation, he taught biology in a secondary school and helped found the Burundi Nature Club, a local non-governmental organization.
Following the 1994 genocide in which nearly a million people -- including most of Rutagarama's relatives -- were killed, the country grappled with resettlement and reconciliation. He immediately returned to Rwanda to direct the national parks program. Although tourism is an important source of income for this poor country, the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) had been weakened, and its protected areas were at risk as the government tried to resettle more than two million people. Rutagarama devised a successful plan for the agency's rehabilitation and won support from all critical partners. He was also willing to repeatedly risk his life by traveling in rebel-held territory in the DNC to deliver funds and equipment to park rangers who had not been paid in more than five years.
In 1997, Rutagarama joined the International Gorilla Conservation Program, a joint program of the African Wildlife Foundation, Flora and Fauna International, and World Wide Fund for Nature. He oversees gorilla conservation activities in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is focusing on rebuilding ecotourism, monitoring the mountain gorillas and ecosystems, building relationships with the communities near the parks, and strengthening ORTPN. He has successfully lobbied high levels of the three governments 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."
Yosepha Alomang, West Papua, Indonesia
For more than 20 years, Yosepha Alomang, a spokesperson and community organizer for the Amungme and other indigenous peoples of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, has worked to overcome the environmental, economic and cultural devastation of decades of mining on the traditions and lands of her people.
The Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, the western half of New Guinea known commonly as West Papua, is Asia's last wilderness and is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. The territory, the size of California, is home to the largest expanse of contiguous tropical rainforest outside of the Amazon and some of the most at-risk virgin tropical rainforest on Earth. It also contains the world's largest gold and copper mine, known as the Grasberg mine, located in the island's mountains.
For 30,000 years, the indigenous peoples of West Papua, including the Amungme, have lived a sustainable existence with the land, yet only three-plus decades of mining destroyed the rainforest, polluted rivers, displaced communities and disrupted cultures. In the 1960s, when a U.S. mining company entered the area, mining began without the permission of locals, many of whom were dispossessed of their lands and forcibly resettled.
Under the protection of the Indonesian government, the mining operation, owned by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., of New Orleans, Louisiana, has bulldozed 400 feet from the top of a mountain sacred to the Amungme. The government permits Freeport to dump approximately 200,000 tons of tailings into local rivers every day, spreading pollutants over vast areas of the forest. Meanwhile, Indonesian soldiers have repeatedly, often brutally, suppressed the community's peaceful protests against the mine.
The indigenous people opposing the mine have been detained, tortured, kidnapped, raped and murdered. In 1994, Alomang was tortured by Indonesian soldiers for allegedly giving food to Papuan fighters resisting Indonesian sovereignty and Freeport's seizure of their lands. She was locked in a room for a week, knee-deep with water and human waste, without food or drink. Altogether she was held, tortured and interrogated for six weeks. These human rights abuses came to light a year later when the Catholic Church and other non-governmental organizations published a report detailing the disturbing abuses experienced by Alomang and many others.
As Alomang and other leaders continued to speak out about the harmful impacts of the mine, the world began to take notice. In 1996, Alomang was the spokesperson for the Amungme in a meeting, the first of its kind, between Freeport CEO James "Jim Bob" Moffett and local communities. Moffett pledged to donate one percent of the company's net profits to local development projects; however, the company would not change its ruinous environmental practices, nor return control of the lands to the people. Regardless of the community's explicit rejection of this offer, the company disbursed millions of dollars into seven artificial "tribal" organizations of Freeport's creation. Within the first two years of this fund, the injection of huge amounts of money into an illegitimate and unaccountable infrastructure led to the deaths of 18 people in fighting amongst community members.
In the face of government indifference to this crisis, the Amungme are seeking independence in order to regain control of their lands and ensure their survival as a community. Their demands include compensation for confiscated lands, independent environmental and human rights assessments, and accountability for those who have violated their human rights.
As a woman in a traditional society, Alomang has focused on working within her community, as other Amungme leaders brought national and international attention to their plight. She has shared her strength with all of the indigenous people of West Papua and led peaceful demonstrations in the mining town of Timika. She recently created HAMAK (Human Rights Against Violence), a women's group dedicated to projects related to human rights, environmentalism, traditional culture and collective action.
Last May, a rock pile at the mine collapsed into a lake sacred to the Amungme, killing four and flooding their villages with contaminated water. This incident, coupled with ongoing community activism, has prompted Indonesia's current government to begin examining Freeport's practices.
Oscar Olivera, Bolivia
Oscar Olivera was a key leader in a community-wide coalition to return the public water system in his hometown of Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city, to the control of the people and away from management by private international corporations.
While fresh water is less than .5 percent of the world's total water supply, its use worldwide will likely double in the next 20 years. According to the International Water Management Institute, an estimated $75 billion in investment will be needed to keep pace with demand. In the past decade, the privatization of water has been promoted as a solution to this problem, creating a new dimension to the global water crisis.
By the mid-1990s, the Bolivian government was under heavy pressure to privatize water systems as part of the World Bank's "structural adjustment policies." The Bank declared its support of full-cost water pricing and took the position that water service should pay for itself without subsidies. Under this policy, the Bolivian government granted a 40-year concession to run Cochabamba's troubled and debt-ridden public water system to Aguas del Tunari, 55 percent of which was owned by International Water Ltd, an affiliate of U.S.-based Bechtel Enterprise Holdings; Abengoa of Spain owned 25 percent, and the remainder was in the hands of Bolivians, some closely tied to the government.
The privatized water company immediately raised prices. While it claimed increases were no more than 35 percent, many customers were paying as much as 200 to 300 percent more. With the minimum wage less than $65 a month, many customers had water bills of $20 or more. In addition, access to water, whether from community wells or rainwater, required the purchase of permits, leaving the poorest in rural and urban areas with threatened water supplies.
The people of Cochabamba reacted. Oscar Olivera, 46, executive secretary of the Cochabamba Federation of Factory Workers and spokesperson for the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, known as La Coordinadora, led demands for the water system to be returned to public control and for substantive changes in the legislation that allowed the privatization. Protests shut down the city for days. Bolivian President Hugo Banzer declared martial law; the army killed one and injured hundreds. Soldiers stormed into houses and arrested several Coalition leaders. Olivera was forced into hiding, but shortly after emerged to lead negotiations with the government, insisting on the nullification of the contract with Aguas del Tunari and changes in water legislation to protect historic uses and practices.
In April 2000, after an emergency session of the Bolivian Congress, the government announced it was canceling the privatization contract and amending the law that allowed this to happen. La Coordinadora won its demands. Water was deprivatized and returned to local control, and the rules were changed to incorporate and respect the demands of rural populations. Even more significant, La Coordinadora achieved the first major victory worldwide against the trend toward privatizing water. Olivera continues to head La Coordinadora's work 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."
Myrsini Malakou and Giorgos Catsadorakis, Greece
Thanks to the work of biologists Myrsini Malakou and Giorgos Catsadorakis, the Préspa wetlands area, one of the most biologically diverse regions in Europe, is on the road to restoration and is now protected as the first transboundary park in the Balkans.
While wetlands cover six percent of the Earth's land and play a major role in regulating the freshwater supply, they are seriously threatened by industrial and agricultural activities. The wetlands of Préspa, in northwestern Greece, along the borders of Albania and Macedonia, are some of the most biologically rich and diverse in Europe. In this region, 260 species of birds migrate, winter and breed, including the world's largest colony of the rare Dalmatian pelican. Otters, wolves and bears also inhabit the area, along with 1,500 plant species and 17 species of fish, eight of which are found nowhere else in the world.
In the mid-1960s, government projects introduced large irrigation systems, which were gradually followed by use of commercial fertilizers and mechanized farming, slowly undermining the intricate wetlands ecology. In the early 1980s, the traditional fishing and pastoral economy of the Préspa region was replaced by intensive bean cultivation, causing further degradation of the wetlands. Based on years of research on the biology and ecology of the region, Malakou and Catsadorakis worked with local communities to seek economic alternatives that would respect, not disrupt, the regional ecosystem.
Malakou, 40, and Catsadorakis, 42, emphasized the local community's experience, traditions and economic objectives as they designed conservation initiatives. They helped some farmers convert to organic cultivation of beans and reintroduced traditional practices such as the use of water buffaloes. As leading advocates for the area's protection, they founded the community-based organization Préspa Center for Man and Nature and have been key scientific advisors for the Society for the Protection of Préspa. Through these organizations, they succeeded in curbing development projects that would further degrade the wetlands, created environmental education programs, and advocated for the expansion of ecotourism. As a direct result of their efforts, major destructive practices were halted, and the wetlands are returning to health. The carp population is increasing, and the Dalmatian pelican colony has increased five-fold to become the largest concentration in the world of this vulnerable species.
With the foundation of successful programs and scientific research, the two called for the creation of a conservation zone to protect the entire Préspa region, which crosses the borders of three countries. Their singular groundbreaking achievement came on February 2, 2000, when the prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia and Greece signed an agreement establishing Préspa Park, the first transboundary protected area in the Balkans. The agreement allows community activities to continue in buffer zones and calls for degraded areas to be restored. In addition, the park promotes cooperation in a region associated with conflict. At the signing ceremony, the three leaders declared that the Préspa Park would be "a model of its kind, as well as an additional reference to the peaceful collaboration among our countries."
Malakou and Catsadorakis are currently contributing to the preparation of a management plan for the sustainable development of the new park. Catsadorakis says, "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."
Bruno Van Peteghem, Noumea, New Caledonia
Bruno Van Peteghem, 46, of Noumea, New Caledonia, is leading a regional and international advocacy campaign to save one of the world's largest coral reefs from being mined by the nickel ore industry. Van Peteghem's campaign is crucial because this South Pacific territory of France has no effective system of environmental protection.
New Caledonia's coral reef is largely intact and healthy thanks to its physical isolation and relatively small human population. Its unique geography protects it from deadly bleaching caused by global warming. Today, the reef is seriously endangered by new developments in the island's largest industry, nickel mining, which provides more than 20 percent of the world's nickel.
The International Nickel Company of Canada (INCO) is setting up operations on the island with a new sulfuric acid leaching process that produces millions of tons of toxic waste including PCBs, heavy metals and organic compounds. INCO, which currently has the
support of New Caledonia's ruling political party, the RPCR (Rassemblement Pour le Caledonie dans la Republique), plans to dig up large portions of the fossilized coral for calcium carbonate to neutralize the acidic tailings. As INCO moves forward with these plans, numerous other companies are also ready to proceed with this same process. No laws exist in New Caledonia to prevent this environmental catastrophe.
Van Peteghem has been an environmental campaigner in New Caledonia since the early 1990s. He and two organizations he co-founded, the New Caledonian Greens (Les Verts Pacifique) and Living Coral (Corail Vivant), are leading a coalition of environmental organizations and indigenous communities to place New Caledonia's coral reef on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Van Peteghem's domestic and international campaign to place the reef on the World Heritage List is the coral's best hope for permanent protection. However, serious opposition to such protection comes from the RPCR, a dominant, pro-mining force on the island.
As part of its World Heritage campaign, Corail Vivant is seeking to gain membership in the International Coral Reefs Initiative. Key backing in New Caledonia for the campaign has come recently from the leadership of FLNKS, the political party representing the island's indigenous Melanesian people. This is particularly important as Van Peteghem and his organizations work to build public support for the reef campaign, which is critical to convincing the RPCR to endorse the World Heritage nomination.
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."
Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, Clearwater, Florida, United States
In late 1996, journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson began investigating rBGH, the genetically modified growth hormone American dairies have been injecting into their cows. As investigative reporters for the Fox Television affiliate in Tampa, Florida, they discovered that while the hormone had been banned in Canada, Europe and most other countries, millions of Americans were unknowingly drinking milk from rBGH-treated cows. The duo documented how the hormone, which can harm cows, was approved by the government as a veterinary drug without adequately testing its effects on children and adults who drink rBGH milk. They also uncovered studies raising the possibility of its link to human breast, prostate and colon cancer.
The Fox affiliate widely promoted the investigative reports. But just before the broadcast, the station abruptly pulled the plug after Monsanto, the hormone manufacturer, threatened Fox News chief Roger Ailes, promising "dire consequences" if the reporters were allowed to broadcast their findings. A Fox lawyer told the journalists, "This story isn't worth a couple hundred thousand dollars to go up against Monsanto." When the reporters implored Fox 's station manager to proceed with the broadcast because this was news that consumers had a right to know, he refused.
For eight months, Fox lawyers pressured the reporters to air a version of the story that would avoid conflict with Monsanto. The reporters rewrote the story more than 80 times, but no version was ever acceptable. Instead the pair was repeatedly threatened with dismissal, twice offered six-figure sums to drop their ethical objections and keep quiet, and finally suspended, locked out of their offices, and fired just before Christmas 1997.
In April 1998, Akre and Wilson filed a lawsuit charging Fox with violating Florida's Whistleblower Law, which makes it illegal to take any retaliatory action against a worker who threatens to expose employer misconduct. Fox Televison, owned by Rupert Murdoch, reportedly spent more than $3 million to defend itself after failing three times to have the case dismissed without a trial. After five weeks of testimony last summer, the jury unanimously ruled that the story Fox had pressured its reporters to broadcast was indeed "a false, distorted or slanted news report." They awarded $425,000 to Akre because they concluded she was fired for no other reason than threatening to reveal Fox's misconduct. The couple, who sold their home and drained their savings to pay legal bills, have not received payment because Fox is appealing the decision. Meanwhile, since the lawsuit, neither has been able to work full-time in TV news.
Although still struggling to preserve their jury award in the long and expensive appeals process, they have formed their own independent news and documentary production company. They vow to continue telling important stories, including others that expose environmental and health issues, which are increasingly ignored by the mainstream media.
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."