PRATIE PLACE

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Goldman Environmental Prize winners, 2005, part two

Even if nobody else is interested, I would like to give some attention to people who have risked their lives to save pieces of our planet. So here are the other three winners of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman awards 16 years. More here and here. See the first three 2005 recipients here.

Kazakhstan

Radiation from Soviet nuclear testing - equal to the explosion of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs - has contaminated crops, land and livestock and caused severe health problems across the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan currently houses 237 million tons of radioactive waste at more than 500 locations. In 2001, legislation was introduced to allow more nuclear waste to be imported into the area.

When news of the deal was leaked, Kaisha Atakhanova, a biologist specializing in the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, led a campaign to prevent the dumping.

She exposed the votes of the ministers and ultimately got them to declare they would not pursue the importation of nuclear waste. As a result, the nuclear waste legislation was stopped, and public awareness of nuclear contamination issues has been heightened.

Her Karaganda Ecological Center promotes grassroots democracy-building and environmental protection.

Congo

The rainforest of the Congo comprises about 50% of Africa's tropical moist forests and one-eighth of the world's tropical rainforest. The Okapi Reserve in the Ituri Forest covers more than three million acres and houses 13 primate species, elephants, and animals found nowhere else on Earth. It also is home to the Mbuti people, known as Pygmies.

In his youth Corneille Ewango helped his uncle, a poacher, by collecting elephant tusks. As he grew older, he embraced ecology and conservation.

Ewango protected the Okapi Faunal Reserve’s botany program through a decade of civil war. He led preservation efforts for the Reserve, its people, and its animals and plants. When most of the senior staff fled, Ewango stayed, aided by 30 junior staff and 1,500 local residents. He cataloged rare species and fought illegal land grabs targeting timber, gold, diamonds, and coltan, a mineral used in cellular phone technology.

Ewango hid the reserve's herbarium, computers, and research within the forest and hid there himself for three months when his life was endangered.

When the war ended in 2002, the reserve was intact. A number of poachers were arrested or exiled, and injunctions against mining within the reserve were created.

Romania

In 2000, the Rosia Montana government granted rights to a Canadian-based company - one with no previous mining experience - to build a gold and silver mine on top of the historic town.
Two thousand people would be forced to relocate, 900 homes would be torn down, ten ancient churches would be destroyed.

The company plans to use cyanide compounds to separate gold and silver from rock. Waste rock would form a dam across the Aries River valley, immersing a village. A cyanide storage pond holding tons of heavy metal waste would cover nearly 1,500 acres. The Aries River, the most important water resource for the 100,000 people in the region, would be irrevocably polluted.

Stephanie Roth, a former editor of The Ecologist, joined the anti-mining campaign after being involved in a successful grassroots movement to stop development of a “Dracula Theme Park” in Transylvania, a project that would have destroyed an ancient oak forest reserve next to a medieval citadel.

Despite death threats, she organized the first large-scale protests in Romania since 1989. She mobilized residents and created a coalition to fight the mining proposal.

As a result, the World Bank withdrew support for the mining project in 2002. In 2004 the project was found to be in clear breach of various EU directives, and Parliament "expressed its deep concern that the Rosia Montana mine development poses a serious environmental threat to the whole region"

The mine proposal is still very much alive and currently is undergoing an Environmental Impact Assessment.

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