Eco Heroes Awarded Goldman, National Geographic Prizes

National Geographic News
April 25, 2001

Eight grassroots environmentalists were honored with the 12th annual Goldman Environmental Prize Wednesday. Presented at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., the prize went to environmental heroes from six continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, North America, and South/Central America.

Also during the ceremony, Richard N. Goldman, founder of the Goldman Prize, was honored by the National Geographic Society with its Chairman's Award for his contribution to conservation and global environmental awareness.

"Seventy-one previous Goldman Prize winners have successfully defended the safety and health of their homelands from destructive government projects and practices, multinational corporations, corrupt leaders, international financial institutions, and even the destruction of wars," according to the Goldman Environmental Foundation.

This year's winners shared total prize money of U.S. $750,000 for their contributions to conservation.

"The winners this year illustrate how the environment is affected by wars, international business, economic policies, and the tendency to put short-term gains ahead of long-term solutions," said Goldman. "They also illustrate how the courage and commitment of a single visionary individual can make a difference for generations to come."

2001 Prize Winners

The Goldman Environmental Foundation announced these winners of its 2001 prize. The biographies are excerpted from the official statement:

• Television journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson from North America researched the potential health risks of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone)—the genetically modified hormone injected into U.S. dairy cows to stimulate milk production. The hormone is among the first genetically modified products approved by the FDA. It is banned in Europe, Japan, and most other industrialized nations. Their resulting story proved too hot for the local TV network affiliate for which it was produced and ultimately led to their firing.

• Conservationist Eugene Rutagarama from Africa has risked his life to save Rwanda's last 355 mountain gorillas. During the massacres of the 1990s, he was forced to flee Rwanda. But upon his return, he worked to rebuild the national park system and protect the gorilla habitat from human encroachment as the government resettled millions of refugees.

• Bolivian labor leader Oscar Olivera from South America became an advocate for universal rights to affordable, clean water. In 1999, after buying one of Bolivia's largest city's public water systems, a U.S. corporation raised rates to the point where many families were paying up to a third of their income for water. Finding this intolerable, Olivera led a coalition that took to the streets in the tens of thousands to bring the city to a halt for days. After being forced into hiding, he emerged and continued his protests and negotiations that forced the government to cancel the sale.

• Yosepha Alomang, an indigenous woman of West Papua (Irian Jaya, Indonesia) was selected from Asia for her organized resistance to the destruction of the world's largest gold mining operation, which is set amidst at-risk virgin tropic rain forests. Her ethnic group has declared independence to gain control over their resources, and their actions have been met with repressive and violent government action. Regardless of these dangers, she continues to shepherd projects promoting traditional cultures, collective action and the well being of indigenous people in West Papua.

• Greek biologists Myrsini Malakou and Giorgos Catsadorakis from Europe led the charge to create a crucial wetlands conservation area located in remote northwestern Greece, adjacent to the borders of Albania and Macedonia (former Yugoslavia). Few other areas in Europe of comparable size are as biologically rich and diverse. Years of hard work researching, organizing, and advocating sustainable farming and economic activities paid off last year when Albania, Macedonia, and Greece jointly created the first trans-boundary protected area in the Balkans, an area better known for conflict than cooperation.

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