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Battle Against Desertification Honoured By UN

Grassroots Battle Against Desertification Honoured With UN Environmental Prize

New York, Sep 28 2006 11:00AM

Highlighting the daily struggle of billions of people living in the world’s drylands, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has awarded a major prize to two grassroots initiatives that combat desertification and land degradation in Colombia and Mauritania.

The 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize goes to Rodrigo Vivas Rosas of Colombia, leader of an alliance of 16 organizations and 6,500 people that has promoted the sustainable use of water, and the Tenadi Cooperative Group of Mauritania, which has sunk boreholes with immersed pumps and reforested the area around them to stop the movement of dunes and solve the problem of drinking water.

“This is an award for the literally hundreds of thousands of grassroots initiatives trying to conserve the health and the fertility of the land in some of the harshest environments on the globe,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said today in announcing the award.

“In honouring Mr. Vivas Rosas and the Tenadi Cooperative we also honour these countless unsung individuals and groups whose commitment, creativity, tenacity and steadfastness are a lesson to us all.”

The prize is sponsored by UNEP and the Nippon Foundation of Japan, whose chairman is Yohei Sasakawa.

Mr. Vivas Rosas’ Inter-institutional Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture (CIPASLA) includes government and non-governmental organizations, a foundation established by ex-guerrillas and an association of indigenous people, and his activities span the Andean region. His achievements have led to a dent in the poverty that helps to perpetuate locῡl guerrilla activity, the production of illicit crops and the flow of migrants to cities.

His integrated models are considered by many as a laboratory for sustainably managing hillside environments threatened by desertification and plagued with a lack of resources.

“I always thought we could replicate successful sustainable development initiatives in Colombia,” Mr. Vivas Rosas said, voicing pride at receiving the award. “Thanks to the support of international organizations, this has become possible. It is now feasible to promote a culture of harvesting and using rainwater in Colombia. This should become public policy and a priority for all local and regional governments.

The Tenadi Cooperative, led by Sidi El Moctar Ould Waled, has worked against a background of years of persistent drought in the Sahel region of Africa that since 1973 has killed 90 per cent of livestock and annihilated the hopes of nomadic people who have been living there for centuries.

Thanks to the Cooperative’s activities, a large number of families have chosen to settle around the Tenadi oasis, where they are being trained in new income-generating agricultural techniques, including introducing new crops in a desert environment through the regeneration of flora which were rapidly becoming extinct.

“Our initiatives serve as an example to many other communities who are fighting desertification in Mauritania and throughout West Africa,” Mr. El Moctar Ould Waled said on learning of his award.

The winners will formally receive the Prize from Mr. Steiner on 30 October at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. They were selected by an independent jury of international leaders and environmentalists, including 2004 Nobel Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai.


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