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Green Nobel Highlights Water Crises

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2012 (IPS) - A Catholic priest from the Philippines, a mother of three from Argentina, and the founder of the NGO Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya all have one thing in common: they have helped to motivate their respective local communities to protect the natural environment around them and to stand up for their rights.

On Monday, Edwin Gariguez, Sofia Gatica and Ikal Angelei, along with three other grassroots activists, were declared winners of the so- called “Green Nobel”. Ma Jun from China, Evgenia Chirikova from Russia and Caroline Cannon from the U.S. also took the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Water is a special focus of this year’s prize, with two of the winners being outstanding river activists.

For one of them, Ikal Angelei, the prize comes at an important juncture in her struggle to stop construction of the massive Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia, which would block access to water for indigenous communities around Lake Turkana.

With a projected cost of 1.7 billion dollars, the Gibe III dam upstream of the Omo River, which began construction in 2006, is the single largest infrastructural work being undertaken in Ethiopia and is supposed to provide 1,800 MW of electricity.

The Omo River provides up to 90 percent of the total water flowing into Lake Turkana, whilst the other 10 percent is provided by the Turkwel and the Kerio.

According to Jeffrey A. Gritzner, a geography professor at the University of Montana in the U.S., there will be a drop in the lake level of up to 10 to 12 metres once the dam opens.

“Even a slight drop of as little as five metres would cause cessation of flooding, leading to a reduction in the lake’s water which will result in rising salinity. This will cause a destruction of significant commercial interests around the lake which include fishery and tourism,” said Gritzner, who is part of the Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG).

Ikal Angelei founded the group Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) in 2008, and in response to her advocacy, last August, the Kenyan parliament passed a unanimous resolution for the government to demand an independent environmental assessment from Ethiopia.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee also responded to her appeals by passing a resolution to halt dam construction until further investigation.

The World Bank and African Development Bank are considering funding the transmission line that would justify completing the dam, and Ikal is now pressuring the banks to stay out of this project.

Chinese journalist and director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) Ma Jun was awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for creating unprecedented environmental transparency in China and empowering Chinese citizens to demand justice for industrial pollution.

In 1999, Ma Jun published the book “China’s Water Crisis”, which exposed the pollution and the impacts of dams and diversions on the health of rivers across China.

“Ma Jun and Ikal Angelei live and work in very different contexts and take quite different approaches in their work on behalf of healthy waters and healthy communities,” Jason Rainey, executive director of San Francisco based NGO International Rivers, told IPS.

“Yet, they are both creative strategists who effectively articulate the crises effecting the rivers of the world, and have a sharp understanding of how to work ‘upstream’ to influence the decision- makers who are often far removed from the impacts of their decisions.

“Both recognise that ecological and economic ‘sustainability’ cannot be achieved if society fails to take care of our living rivers,” he added.

The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1990 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his wife, Rhoda H. Goldman, who is a descendent of Levi Strauss.

Richard Goldman founded the insurance company Goldman Insurance and Risk Management, and with his wife he established the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund in 1951.

The prize is awarded to six persons each year, one in each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America), and has so far been given to more than 150 people from more than 80 countries.

The “Green Nobel” has been given to other river activists before, including Chinese journalist Dai Qing won the Goldman Prize in 1993, primarily for her authorship and organising to bring transparency and critique to the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China.

Chilean environmentalist Juan Pablo won the prize in 1997 due to activism against the ecological damages from a series of dam building projects at the Biobío River.

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