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Congolese Environmentalist Wins European Prize

Congolese Environmentalist Wins European Prize

Congolese Environmentalist Wins European Prize

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The four winners of the Swedish award known by many as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' have been announced, and one of the winners is the Congolese environmentalist Rene Ngongo. Ngongo tells VOA he will use the prize money to continue the fight to protect the rainforest in DRC.

Rene Ngongo is the founder of the Congolese-based environmental organization known by the acronym OCEAN. With the assistance of volunteers throughout Congo, OCEAN works to preserve the country's rainforest - the second-largest tropical forest in the world.

Speaking to VOA on the phone from DRC, Ngongo says his fight to defend the rainforest will continue. The main focus of Ngongo's work is to promote sustainable land use, letting local populations satisfy their needs for food, fuel and an income, but without destroying the rainforest.

He says his love for Congo's forest began early in his life. Growing up on the outskirts of the forest, he says he wanted to protect the woods and wildlife that lived in it.

But he says defending the forest has been a dangerous job. He says he and his team have suffered ongoing intimidation from war-time combatants.

Two of the four winners of this year's Right Livelihood Award were chosen because of their commitment to the environment.

Executive Director of the award body Ole von Uexkull told VOA the awarding jury wanted to draw the world's attention to the disastrous impact climate change is having on the world.

"This year's laureates, we feel, give a very important message when it comes to actually questions of survival, which sounds drastic but it is really what we are at," Euxkull said.

He says activists like Ngongo who work on the ground to save the environment are crucial to meeting the universal challenges of global warming.

"It is very important to have someone who, like Rene Ngongo, who keeps pointing his finger at the many destructive practices that are taking place there, but who is also ready as a biologist to work with companies and with the government on how you can work with the forest in a sustainable way," Euxkull said.

During the wartime years of 1996 to 2002 Ngongo monitored the exploitation of Congo's natural resources by different warring parties. Euxkull says the end of the war in Congo brought new challenges.

"Unfortunately since the war has ended the situation for the forest has become even more dramatic," Uexkull noted, "because now the Democratic Republic of Congo is safe for the multinational logging and mining companies to operate and they are often unfortunately ruthless in their practices and the capacities of the Congolese government to control and to regulate what they are doing is in large parts of the country almost non-existent."

According to the environmental group Greenpeace two-thirds of Congo's population rely on the country's rainforest. Like all large forest areas, it plays a vital role in regulating climate, both locally and globally.

The other winners of the of the Right Livelihood Award are Canadian Scientist David Suzuki, New Zealand anti-nuclear activist Alyn Ware, and Catherine Hamlin, a women's health provider from Ethiopia. The winners share the prize money, which this year is around $150,000.