Seven people with seven extraordinary stories of work and dedication to the environment were awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize this week in two separate ceremonies in the United States. The seven winners all live in different parts of the world where their work is recognized as helping their own communities. The award was named after its creator, philanthropist Richard Goldman.
San Francisco was the initial venue for this year's Goldman Environmental Prize. Seven people were given the award for their extraordinary stories and hard work on behalf of their communities and environment. The event drew personalities such as Al Gore and Robert Redford.
The award ceremonies, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Goldman Prize, were staged a second time in Washington, D.C., where the winners could meet policy makers.
American Maria Gunnoe came from Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, where she says the powerful coal industry has left extensive environmental damage, polluting rivers and streams. Gunnoe, a medical technician by training, was recognized for fighting a hard battle against the coal industry, to promote cleaner energy solutions. "This recognition proves that the intimidation tactics of the coal industry no longer works." she said.
In Indonesia, trash was piling up in open waste dumps in the archipelago's poor communities. Yuyun Ismawati initiated a campaign of waste management, helping to solve problems of employment, health and environment. "While the world addresses the critical problem of climate change, we must remember that millions of people still lack of access to sanitation and the fundamental right to a healthy environment," Ismawati stated.
Suriname is in the northeastern coast of South America. Its rainforest is home to numerous indigenous and tribal peoples. But mining, logging and development threatened their subsistence and their forest.
Wanze Eduards and Hugo Jabini successfully organized their communities to win a landmark court ruling granting local people the right to control resource exploitation in their territories. "Our territory in Suriname is the only place that the Saramaka [tribe] can call home. We are obligated to protect it so that future generations of Saramaka can live there in freedom and in our own land," Jabini said.
Decommissioned ships from around the world are sent to Bangladesh, often with toxic contaminants, where they are dismantled by unskilled, low paid workers. The work is not only dangerous, activists say it is environmentally devastating.
Attorney Rizwana Hasan led a legal battle to increase government regulations as well as public awareness. "We want the global community to know that our territory is not to be treated as a dumping site," Hasan said.
Toxic chemicals, from obsolete stockpiles in the old Soviet bloc, are still sometimes used by poor farmers. Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya organized activists throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus to tackle the problem. "We are all at risk and babies get their first dose of toxic chemicals in the womb and the second when they start breast feeding," she stated.
In the African nation of Gabon, Marc Ona Essangui has been arrested several times for his defense of the National Park system and its rainforest and rich biodiversity. From his non-governmental organization called "Brainforest" and his wheelchair, Essangui led the efforts to expose and block government agreements to develop large projects for a mine, a dam and railroads as well as a deep-water port facility.
Each of the prize recipients received $150,000. The international recognition could further support their efforts for their communities and the environment.