Fight against Climate Change: Projects from South Africa and Bangladesh Share Prestigious Environment Award
Winners of the United Nations Environment Programme Sasakawa Prize 2007 Announced
Nairobi, 27 September 2007 - Ms. Jeunesse Park of South Africa and Bangladeshi NGO Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha are the co-winners of the UNEP Sasakawa Prize 2007, a $200,000 prize awarded yearly to individuals or institutions who have made a substantial contribution to the protection and management of the environment.
Commenting on this announcement, Ms. Park, who has been working on climate change since 1990, said that "it has been rewarding to recently see the growing interest in this crucial global crisis and to know that we have played a small part in facilitating action in South Africa".
For his part, Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan, Shidhulai Executive Director, noted that the prize will help his organization "provide clean solar-powered lighting and educate thousands of people on literacy, sustainable farming and climate change", as well as promote "self-reliance for hundreds of villages in Bangladesh".
The four-member jury chose the co-winners, at a meeting at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, and the award ceremony will be held on 27 October 2007 at the Museum of Natural History, Rose Center for Earth and Space, in New York, USA.
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. The candidates' scope of activities is associated with the environmental theme of the year, which in 2007 is climate change.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Leadership is urgently needed if the international community is to rise to the challenge of climate change-leadership from the United Nations; governments, scientists; business and cities, but also leadership from individuals and civil society organizations working on the ground".
"These two outstanding winners of the Sasakawa Prize 2007 embody leadership in its finest form - namely creative and determined action that demonstrates real and tangible difference to the people and communities they serve. In doing so our award winners are proving that combating climate change is not only do-able but links to the wider environmental, social and economic aims enshrined in targets such as the Millennium Development Goals," he added.
Ms. Jeunesse Park, is the founder and CEO of Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), South Africa's only national greening and food gardening NGO which promotes greening, sustainable natural resource use and management and food security, through three key programs: Trees for Homes, EduPlant, and the Urban Greening Forum.
Ms. Park initiated the design of the first carbon calculator in South Africa, using the global Greenhouse Gas Reporting Protocol and launched the Carbon Standard in 2006 to make it easy and affordable for government, institutions and communities to offset carbon emissions. The calculator evaluates carbon emitted by a range of activities such as energy consumption, land and air travel, and paper usage. It then calculates how many trees one would need to plant to absorb the carbon generated through the process of photosynthesis. The calculator and associated action are instrumental in creating political and social awareness on means of addressing the effects of climate change on communities and the environment.
She has played a significant role in the introduction of the concept of urban forestry. Taking note that over 66% of South Africa's population lives in degraded urban areas, she initiated the Urban Greening Forum. With support from various international and local environmental entities, she began working with national and local authorities and communities in the barren townships of South Africa to develop parks, nurseries, street trees and other greening projects. Her work has provided a model for several municipalities such as Soweto, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Port Elizabeth and Kimberley.
As for Trees for Homes, with the slogan "a house is not a home without a tree", it aims to improve the quality of life of the under-privileged by providing plant material, environmental awareness, some short term employment and education for those living in low-cost housing developments, whilst offsetting carbon emissions.
"FTFA aims for sustainability and replication and, in the past few years, it has been encouraging to see the government and the private sector in South Africa approach us for assistance in addressing greening and climate change. We feel that over the past 18 years we have sown the seeds of awareness and they are now germinating and growing to ensure sustainable development for our emerging democracy", said Ms. Park.
Instead of waiting around for the limelight to spur her into action, she has been working for 18 years with her NGO on accomplishments that could fill several books, and she intends on continuing.
"The prize money would be used to develop climate change awareness and education materials and assist in networking and presentations on climate change to government, business and the disadvantaged and underserved communities of South Africa," assured Ms Park.
"Since we are currently lobbying big business in this country, the award would assist us with highlighting the importance of climate change, and options for addressing this, amongst the larger carbon emitters of South Africa," she added.
Thanks to the education and support programs offered by FTFA, hundreds of people in South Africa are hard at work planting, reaping, creating and selling their homegrown or recycled wares.
Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha was founded in 1998 to help poor and marginalized people from the remote Chalanbeel region and to combat the effects of climate change in Bangladesh, particularly devastating floods and rising water levels.
The Shidhulai has achieved this target by building 40 flat-bottomed boats from locally available materials, which make their way through the rivers and shallow canals of the Chalanbeel to bring a range of educational services and renewable energy supplies to 88,000 families each year.
"Climate change has increased flooding in recent years - now we have floods two to three times a year. Over the next 8-10 years, ten per cent of our land will be lost to the sea because of climate change - issues like this need local solution by local people. Shidhulai as a local organization is proving that it is possible to deal with this climate change, to tackle pollution, and at the same time, to lift people out of poverty. We hope our work in using boats to adapt and cope with climate change and improve the quality of life will serve as an inspiration," said Mr. Rezwan.
Shidulai uses Bangladesh's extensive river network to spread environmental education. Boats have been outfitted to travel from farm to farm bringing new technologies, information, strategies, and tools. Villagers have learned and implemented ways to avoid problems such as soil erosion, ground and water contamination, over-fishing, and habitat destruction. Access to this information has resulted in higher income which has enabled residents to send their children to school, gain access to better healthcare, and improve living conditions.
The boats, which anchor at remote villages, rely on solar energy and cellular network for Internet access. With the help of volunteers, Shidhulai educates men, women, and children on issues ranging from agricultural practices to micro enterprise and literacy. Farmers learn about strategies for productive and sustainable farming and the ecological hazards of pesticides. Throughout the year, they are able to connect with educators via onboard e-mail and video conference, and check current farm prices online to remain competitive in the local market.
Students, who would otherwise be unable to attend school during the monsoon season, continue their education using the libraries' onboard field staff. With illiteracy rates in Bangladesh at nearly 60%, Shidhulai is making a significant impact on educating young people, especially girls. In fact, over 70 percent of the program's beneficiaries are women.
Notes to Editors
The four member of UNEP Sasakawa Prize jury are: Pr. Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate; Ms. Angela Cropper, Senator for Trinidad and Tobago; Ms. Wakako Hironaka, former Minister of the Environment of Japan; and Mr. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.
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.
Ms. Park, SHIDHULAI and Ms. Omana T.K, a woman who has brought climate-friendly rice production, rainwater harvesting and bio gas power to thousands of villagers in rural India, were short-listed in June 2007 by Daniel Schrag, Director of Harvard University's Center for the Environment; Richard Ottinger, Pace University Law School, Zamba Batjargal, former minister of the Environment for Mongolia and Eric Falt, Director, Division of Communications and Public Information, United Nations Environment Programme.
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UNEP News Release 2007/28