Earth Day is being celebrated Wednesday throughout the world with the launching of the "Green Generation", an ambitious two-year program to motivate people to reverse environmental decline. It was started 39 years ago to highlight the importance of protecting the environment and thereby benefit the world.
Wangari Maathai of Kenya is founder of the Green Belt Movement and Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. She told VOA that her Earth Day message to the world is to practice the environmental "Three R's" – Re-use, Reduce, and Recycle. Maathai also said Africa ought to be in the forefront of the movement to protect the earth.
"Earth Day is a day that we all want to do something for the planet, and Africa in particular ought to be in the forefront, especially for the protection of the natural environment, especially forests and water and land," she said.
Maathai said the environmental movement is slowly gaining ground in Africa, although she said the continent still has a long way catch up.
"We are still trying very hard, but Africa is still very much preoccupied with survival, and as you know we have so many conflicts. And so we find that the governments are still not prioritizing the environment, even though I want to give credit to the governments in central Africa, 10 governments, which have decided to better manage the Congo forests not for them but for the world, and have created a treaty. And now they are being supported by the British government and the Norwegian government to establish what they call the Congo Fund," the Nobel Laureate said.
She said African countries are still not doing enough to prepare to adapt to the changes that will come as a result of global warming.
"When we talk about global warming, many minds go to the Arctic Circle to the Polar Regions, and we forget that much of the global warming scientists are telling us that the greatest negative impact will be in Africa, especially with the spread of desertification and loss of water and also loss of agricultural land. So in fact it is ironic because Africa should be really preparing very seriously in terms of adapting to the changes that will come," Maathai said.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, at a recent book launching event in Washington praised Maathai for her efforts to promote environmental awareness in Africa, especially her tree-planting program.
Maathai said many African governments are beginning to adopt programs to protect the environment, although she said it took 30 years for them to realize the important work that she and her organization have been going.
"I want to thank the president (Sirleaf) for acknowledging our work. But it is true that more African governments are now responding, and currently there is a push by both President Eduardo (dos Santos of Angola), President Obasanjo (former president of Nigeria), and the African Union, they are working very closely now with the European Union to create what is being called a Green World. And I have been invited to play a part, especially through the Green Belt Movement in mobilizing communities across Africa from Djibouti to Dakar. In many ways you feel sorry that it took 30 years and the Norwegian Nobel Committee for Peace for people at home to recognize that we were dealing with a very important issue that is crucial to Africa," Maathai said.
Maathai, who is currently in the United States to promote her new book "The Challenge for Africa", sent an Earth Day message to the world.
"I have a special message, and it's something that all of us can do, and that is to use the three "Rs", which means reuse, reduce, and recycle. And in Japan, using the same three "Rs" we adopted a concept that is Japanese called 'Mottainai' which calls for respect of our communities, of our bio-diversity," she said.
Maathai said she will on Earth Day 2009 have the honor to plant the one millionth tree of the Shaklee Corporation, a natural nutrition company based in San Francisco, California.