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Goldman Prize Honors Environmental Activists - 2003-04-15

As part of the international observance of Earth Day, seven "heroes of the environment," as they were called, received the prestigious Goldman awards in San Francisco Monday.

The winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, selected by an international jury, were from Nigeria, the Philippines, Peru, Spain, Australia and the United States.

They were introduced at a news conference by Richard Goldman, a wealthy San Francisco ecologist, who has been sponsoring the event for 14 years. He praised the winners as "ordinary but dedicated activists who, often at great personal risk, contributed in significant ways to the preservation of Planet Earth." Each received $125,000, the largest prize of its kind in the world.

Odigha Odigha, of Cross River State in Nigeria, was honored for fighting to protect his country's dwindling rain forests, despite threats to his life. He put through a nationwide ban on logging in areas said to contain the highest primate diversity on the planet, and home to some of the world's most endangered gorillas and species of butterflies.

Mr. Odigha recalled that, as a child he walked 10 kilometers through a rain forest on his way to school. "A lot of that is gone," he says. "We only have less than 10 percent of what used to be the rain forest left as of today."

Julia Bonds of West Virginia, this year's North American winner, has been confronting long odds to stop the environmentally devastating practice of mining coal on mountain tops, deemed a catastrophe for public health, because it pollutes water. "And the air pollution, the dust, that is raised in the process of mining is also very bad, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that," says Ms. Bonds.

Von Hernandez of Quezon City in the Philippines was honored for leading a fight against waste incineration and the pollution it creates, by making mandatory recycling an issue in the 1998 presidential election.

Another award for fighting pollution went to Maria Elena Foronda Farro, of Peru, who led a campaign to clean up her country's fertilizer industry, based on fish-meal, which when dumped untreated into streams or sent up smokestacks, causes severe health problems. Mrs. Foronda spent 13 months in prison for what she contends was her activism in the interest of ecology.

A water conservationist, Pedro Arrujo-Agudo, a physics and economics professor at the University of Zaragoza, received an award for leading the opposition to a hotly contested project by the Spanish government to build 120 dams, in order to reroute the Ebro River in a massive water diversion plan.

Two elderly aborigines of Coober Pedy, South Australia, Eileen Brown and Eileen Wingfield, shared a Goldman Prize for stalling plans of the federal government to build a radioactive waste dump in the desert lands near Woomera, where they live.

Since it was established in 1990, the Goldman prize has been awarded to 94 people from 55 countries.