Sasakawa Prize Winners (2007)
Summary of Environmental Achievements
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.