Press Releases June 2006 - UNEP Announces Candidates for $200,000 Environment Prize - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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UNEP Announces Candidates for $200,000 Environment Prize

UNEP Sasakawa Prize Honours Achievers in the Fight Against Desertification

Nairobi/Algiers 5 June 2006 — A nomads’ cooperative from Mauritania and an ecological architect from Colombia are among five short-listed candidates for the 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize, which is being awarded for outstanding work related to the 2006 World Environment Day theme of deserts and desertification.

The US $200,000 UNEP Sasakawa Prize is given annually to a group or individual with an established track record of achievement and the potential to continue to make outstanding contributions to the protection and management of the environment.

The five short-listed candidates for the 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize are:

• Dr. Elena María Abraham, from Argentina, a well-known regional and international expert on deserts and desertification.

• Colombian architect Mauricio P. Bedoya, whose project “Art of the Desert – Holy Cartography and Land-Art” is promoting the aesthetic, spiritual and environmental enhancement of the daily lives of the Wayuu aboriginal ethnic group in northern Colombia.

• Dr. Emma Gabunschina, from Russia, a leader in the field of deserts and desertification, whose work includes a number of innovative projects to combat desertification in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

• The Tenadi Pre-cooperative Group, which is helping desert nomads find new and sustainable ways of combating persistent drought in Mauritania.

• Colombian lawyer, environmentalist and community leader, Rodrigo Hernan Viva Rosas, whose environmental and community development initiatives are helping to reverse the poverty that helps perpetuate guerilla activity, the production of illicit crops, and the flow of migrants to Colombian cities.

“None of these environmental leaders is yet an internationally recognised name, though they may all be destined to become so,” said UNEP’s Deputy Director and Officer in Charge, Shafqat Kakakhel. “However, we feel that their exemplary work in the field of environmental conservation and sustainable development related to this year’s World Environment Day theme of deserts and desertification deserves recognition and support.”

The five names on the short-list will be assessed later in June by a high-level panel of judges, who include environmentalist Angela Cropper from Trinidad and Tobago, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, Wakako Hironaka, Japanese member of parliament and former Minister of Environment, and Achim Steiner, who will assume the role of Executive Director of UNEP on June 15.

The final winner of the 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize will be presented at a high-profile ceremony in November in New York, USA.

For further information contact:

Eric Falt, Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information (DCPI), on Tel: +254-20-762.3292, Mobile: +254-733-682.656 or +1-917-434-9338, E-mail:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254-20-762.3084, Mobile: +254-733-632.755, or +41-79 596 5737, E-mail:

If there is no prompt response, please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Information Officer, on Tel: 254 20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, E-mail:



Dr. Elena María Abraham (Argentina)

Dr. Elena María Abraham is a well-known regional and international expert on deserts and desertification. In Latin America and the Caribbean, she is regarded as a “reference person” on desertification. She is one of the a 25-member high-level Experts Group in charge of reviewing the functioning and progress of the Science and Technical Committee of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Dr. Elena María Abraham is generally acknowledged for her work on behalf of the Mendoza desert communities of Argentina. She is developing an integrated project for local development and to combat desertification and poverty, using a sociological methodology and based on extensive research, combined with innovative environmental approaches. This ground-breaking three-phased project entails generating new knowledge, cultivating indigenous human resources, promoting empowerment among the communities involved, and raising awareness in decision making processes.

Dr. Elena María Abraham was born in Mendoza, Argentina, on 13 September 1951. She is currently Professor of Geography and Director of the Laboratory of Desertification in Mendoza, and Vice Director of the Argentine Institute of Research on Arid Lands. She is also the leader of an interdisciplinary team working specifically on management and administration of drylands affected by desertification. Over the years, Dr. Elena María Abraham has combined her experience in academia with scientific knowledge and research to develop new and practical methodologies and approaches in improving lives of communities living in areas affected by desertification, as well as in identifying new ways of dealing with drylands. She is well known for questioning established knowledge and posing new questions.

Mauricio Puello Bedoya (Colombia)

Colombian architect Mauricio P. Bedoya is well known for his project “Art of the Desert – Holy Cartography and Land-Art”. This regionally acclaimed project is a unique approach towards the aesthetic, spiritual and environmental enhancement of the daily lives of the Wayuu aboriginal ethnic group in northern Colombia. This artistic endeavour, based on extensive interaction with the Wayuu is also considered a bench-mark or point of initiation in studying the impact of deserts and desertification on other aboriginal communities elsewhere in Latin America and rest of the world.

Mr. Bedoya was born on 20 November 1961 in Medellin, Colombia. Since completing a doctorate in Urbanism and Territorial Management in Barcelona, Spain, in the early 1990s, he has worked in his native Colombia as an architect, researcher and environmentalist. At present, he is Director of the Habitat-Net in Bogota, and a senior researcher at the Habitat, City and Territory Institute at the National University of Colombia.

Mr. Bedoya has been involved in a broad range of environmental activities and regional planning. His multidisciplinary academic and professional background allows him conduct research pertaining to management issues in relation to the city-region nexus. He works on national urban networks, agropolitan models (“Agropolis”) and land and environmental planning on national borders and indigenous territories, with reference to the countries of the Andean Community of Nations.

Rodrigo Hernan Viva Rosas (Colombia)

A lawyer, environmentalist, tireless community leader, and environmental visionary in Colombia and the Andean region, Mr. Vivas Rosas was born in Papayan, Colombia, on 21 September 1970, and has trained in law and sustainable development. He is credited for successfully establishing several environmental and community development initiatives that have won international acclaim and recognition. He is the leader of CIPASLA, an alliance of 16 organizations and nearly 6,500 people living in a 7,000-hectare area that encompasses 23 rural districts. The participants include government and non-governmental organizations, a foundation established by ex-guerrillas, and an association of indigenous people.

Mr. Rosas also leads the way for REDLAYC, a food security and sustainable development regional entity, and is regional counselor for ECOFONDO, a consortium of regional environmental organizations. His activities span across the Andean region and his achievements have helped reduce the poverty that helps perpetuate local guerilla activity, the production of illicit crops, and the flow of migrants to Colombian cities. His integrated models and approaches are considered by many to be a kind of laboratory for developing tools and applications in hillside environments plagued with lack of resources and threatened by desertification. Through these applications and methodologies several of his initiatives aim at developing an institutional model for organizing community efforts to combat desertification, poverty and resource degradation. He is also working towards creating computerized models that would enable research and development organizations and community groups to make sound decisions towards resource management.

Tenadi Pre-Cooperative Group (Mauritania)

The Tenadi Pre-cooperative Group was created on 5 May 1975 by more than 200 desert families in Mauritania, and was recognized and accredited as a cooperative by order of the Ministry of Rural Development, Mauritania, on 8 May 1985.

Since 1973, years of persistent drought in the Sahel and in Mauritania in particular have killed 90 per cent of livestock and annihilated the hopes of people who have been living a nomadic lifestyle there for centuries . In response to this natural disaster and its serious consequences– such as rural exodus, desertification, encroachment by sand, loss of flocks – many nomads have decided to join forces in the struggle to survive against very hostile natural elements by creating a range of new activities..

The Tenadi Cooperative, as part of this struggle, has taken a lead role in laying down a solid foundation not only for basic survival, but towards sustainable development through various innovative techniques. The community is centered around an oasis and the group focuses its attention on improving the lives of community members The techniques employed range from solving the problem of drinking water by sinking two boreholes with immersed pumps, to combating desertification by improving and reforesting an area of 80 hectares around the boreholes to stop movement of the dunes. They have also started a Prosopis nursery for planting windbreaks, and have established a date palm oasis, where a diverse range of crops can be grown under the palms.

The activities of the Cooperative have brought a large number of families to settle around Tenadi oasis. People are being trained in new income-generating agricultural techniques, and encouraged to support the introduction of new crops in a desert environment by regenerating flora which were on the verge of becoming extinct.

Emma Gabunschina (Russia)

Dr. Emma Gabunschina was born on 27 April 1949 in Kalmyk Republic, Russia. She has a multi-faceted and distinguished track-record in the field of environment and in combating desertification. Among her numerous achievements in the area of deserts and desertification is her invaluable contribution to the development of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). It is largely due to her substantial contribution that Russia decided to ratify the UNCCD. At present, Dr. Gabunschina along with her colleagues, is energetically working towards the implementation of the Convention’s provisions in Russia.

In addition to her work on UNCCD, Dr. Gabunschina and her team are involved in a wide variety of scientific and educational environmental projects including finding effective ways to bind loose sands; increasing productivity of pastures in Eastern European countries; and training children and youth in ways of combating desertification.

A graduate of Moscow Lomonosov State University, she is a prominent environmental scientist and a public figure in Russia. As a professor of ecology in her native Kalmyk Republic, she has taught thousands of environmentalists who are now working in various sectors throughout Russia. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on deserts and desertification. For her outstanding contribution in the environmental arena in Russia and abroad, she was bestowed the honorary title of “Ecologist-Emeritus of the Russian Federation” in 1998.


The UNEP Sasakawa Prize is awarded every year to individuals with an established track record of achievement and the potential to make outstanding contributions to the protection and management of the environment consistent with the policies and objectives of UNEP.

The publicity and prestige associated with winning the UNEP Sasakawa Prize is just one of its advantages. Recognizing that good ideas deserve a helping hand, the $200,000 UNEP Sasakawa Prize offers the financial support laureates need to build on their achievements.

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize acts as an incentive for environmental efforts that are sustainable and replicable in the long-term. It recognizes innovation, groundbreaking research and ideas, and extraordinary grassroots initiatives from around the world.

Each candidate’s scope of activities is associated with UNEP’s environmental theme selected each year for World Environment Day. In 2006, the theme for which candidates will be eligible is ‘deserts and desertification’.

The 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize award ceremony will be held in November at the Hayden Planetarium, Rose Center for Earth and Space, American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA.

As well as honouring the winner of the 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize, the ceremony will feature a keynote lecture related to the theme of deserts and desertification, delivered by 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize jury member and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Kenyan Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Professor Wangari Maathai.

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize is chosen through a two-tier selection process. A selection panel, comprising one representative each from UNEP and The Nippon Foundation, plus two respected environmental experts and a UNEP Sasakawa Prize laureate, chosen for their knowledge of the year’s theme, selects a short-list of five candidates which is announced on World Environment Day, 5 June.

A single winner is selected from the five short-listed candidates by the UNEP Sasakawa Prize jury, which comprises the UNEP Executive Director, the nominee of the Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and three internationally recognized personalities known for their commitment to and understanding of environment and development. The three guest jury members each serve on the UNEP Sasakawa Prize jury for three years.

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize is sponsored by the Japan-based Nippon Foundation, an independent, non-profit grant-making organization that supports both domestic and international philanthropic projects. The UNEP Sasakawa Prize was originally established in 1982 by the late Ryoichi Sasakawa. The Prize was re-launched in its current format in 2005, and is currently chaired by Mr. Sasakawa’s son, Yohei Sasakawa.

Former winners of the UNEP Sasakawa Prize include the late Brazilian environmentalist Chico Mendes, who died campaigning to save the Amazon rainforest and Professor Mario Molina, who alerted the world to the dangers of ozone depletion.

Further details of the UNEP Sasakawa Prize are available at

A full list of UNEP Sasakawa Prize laureates is available at


World Environment Day, commemorated each year on 5 June, is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.

World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the UN General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The World Environment Day theme for 2006 is Deserts and Desertification and the slogan is Don't Desert Drylands! The slogan emphasizes the importance of protecting drylands, which cover more than 40 per cent of the planet’s surface, and are home to one-third of the world’s people.

The main international celebrations of the World Environment Day 2006 are being held in Algiers, Algeria.

More information on World Environment Day is available from UNEP’s web site







UNEP News Release 2006/29




Further Resources

UNEP Sasakawa Prize

World Environment Day 2006

Future of World’s Arid Regions Chronicled in Landmark UN Environment Report


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