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Maathai, Wangari Muta

Maathai, Wangari Muta

Maathai, Wangari Muta, 1940-, Kenyan environmental activist; studied Mount St. Scholastica (now Benedictine) College (B.S., 1964), Univ. of Pittsburgh (M.S., 1966), Univ. of Nairobi (Ph.D., 1971); she was the first woman in E Africa to earn a doctorate. She taught at her Nairobi alma mater, becoming head of its veterinary anatomy department in 1977. While active (1976-87) in the National Council of Women of Kenya, she initiated (1977) the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots group that encourages ordinary Kenyan women to plant trees to counter erosion, deforestation, and other environmental ills, to provide sustainable fuel, and to empower themselves. (Tens of millions of trees have been planted.) The group also sponsors initiatives on women's rights, education, and other issues. Maathai, who strongly opposed Kenya's President Moi, also has advocated the cancellation of African foreign debt. In 2002 she was elected to Kenya's national assembly in 2002 and in 2003 became assistant environmental minister. She became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

See her The Green Belt Movement (1985, rev. ed. 2003), The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women, and the Environment (2002), and Unbowed (2006).

(born April 1, 1940, Nyeri, Kenya) Kenyan politician and environmental activist. Maathai was educated in the U.S. and later earned a Ph.D. (1971) at the University of Nairobi, where she then taught veterinary anatomy. In 1977, as a way of conserving land and empowering women, she founded the Green Belt Movement, which recruited women to plant trees in deforested areas; by the early 21st century, it was responsible for the planting of some 30 million trees. Over time the organization also came to include programs in civic and environmental education, advocacy, and job training. Maathai, an outspoken critic of government corruption and supporter of debt cancellation for poor African countries, was elected to Kenya's National Assembly in 2002 and later served as assistant minister of environment, natural resources, and wildlife (2003–05). In 2004 she received the Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize.

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The Goldman Environmental Prize is a prize given annually to grassroots environmental activists from six geographic areas: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The prize includes a no-strings-attached award of $150,000 (as of 2008).

The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1990 by civic leaders and philanthropists Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman. Richard Goldman founded Goldman Insurance Services in San Francisco. Rhoda Goldman was a descendant of Levi Strauss, founder of the worldwide clothing company.

The Goldman Environmental Prize winners are selected by an international jury who receive confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. Prize winners participate in a 10-day tour of San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and presentation, news conferences, media briefings and meetings with political, public policy, financial and environmental leaders.

Prize winners

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2004

Africa: Rudolf Amenga-Etego, 40, Accra, Ghana Visionary public interest lawyer Rudolf Amenga-Etego of Ghana has gained international recognition for suspending a major water privatization project backed by the World Bank. The devastating plan would further impede access to clean drinking water, a crisis linked to high rates of disease in low-income communities. The privatization would also place an especially harsh burden on Ghanaian girls, whose school work suffers because they literally shoulder the responsibility of providing water for their families.

Asia: Rashida Bee, 48, and Champa Devi Shukla, 52, Bhopal, India Despite their poverty and poor health due to toxic gas exposure, Bee and Shukla have emerged as leaders in the international fight to hold Dow Chemical accountable for the infamous 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India that killed 20,000 and left more than 150,000 seriously injured. (Union Carbide became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow in 1999.) They organized the first global hunger strike to draw international attention to Dow's deadly legacy and traveled the world to protest at Dow shareholder meetings. Now on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Bee and Shukla are plaintiffs in a class action suit demanding a clean up of the noxious factory site and damages to cover medical monitoring and costs incurred from years of soil and water contamination.

South and Central America: Libia Grueso, 43, Buenaventura, Colombia In a major victory for the Afro-Colombian civil rights movement, social worker and activist Libia Grueso secured more than 5.9 million acres (24,000 km²) in territorial rights for the country's black rural communities, including those in Colombias lush Pacific rainforest. Years of armed conflict, rapacious development and the narcotics industry have displaced Afro-Colombians and created an ecological catastrophe. Despite life-threatening circumstances, Grueso's brave work passing Law 70, historic legislation that officially grants Afro-Colombians territorial rights on lands they have populated for hundreds of years, gives hope to this environmental justice struggle.

Europe: Manana Kochladze, 32, Tbilisi, Georgia British Petroleum is leading an international consortium, which includes California-based Unocal, for the construction of the $3 billion BTC project that would establish the largest pipeline in the world, crossing through Georgia, a country mired in poverty and political instability since gaining independence from Russia in 1991. For the U.S., the pipeline is a way to tap oil reserves in former Soviet states while bypassing Iran and Russia. But the route would run through a national park and pristine mountain gorge, home to Georgia's commercially prized mineral water and one of the few successful enterprises in Georgia's economy. Kochladze's fearless tenacity in the face of widespread government corruption and multinational industry interests has won critical concessions to protect local villagers and the environment and has forced a thorough examination of the project's environmental and health impact.

Islands and Island Nations: Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho, 37, Dili, East Timor Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho is a founding father and environmental hero of East Timor, the world's newest nation. A former resistance leader during the Indonesian occupation, de Carvalho is largely credited for spearheading the progressive inclusion of environmental justice tenets in East Timor's constitution. These principles will play a critical legal and symbolic role in guiding sustainable management of the island's rainforests, coral reefs and vast oil and gas reserves.

North America: Margie Richard, 62, Norco, Louisiana, USA this year's North American winner, grew up just 25 feet away from the fence line of a Shell Chemical plant the size of nine American football fields that releases more than 2 million pounds (900 metric tons) of toxic chemicals into the air each year. Four generations of Richard's family have lived in the Old Diamond neighborhood of Norco, Louisiana, located within the area known as "Cancer Alley". High rates of cancer, birth defects and other serious health ailments plague the town's 1,500 predominantly African-American residents.

For more than 13 years, Richard led a community campaign demanding fair and just resettlement costs from Shell for her family and neighbors too impoverished to relocate to a safe area. In 2002, thanks largely to Richard's efforts, Shell agreed to cover relocation costs for Old Diamond's residents: the first community relocation victory of its kind in the Deep South. The multinational giant also agreed to reduce their emissions at the Norco plant by 30 percent.

2005

2006

Silas Kpanan’ Siakor, 36, Liberia Siakor along with members of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) Liberia and the SAMFU Foundation, Liberia, exposed evidence that Liberia President Charles Taylor used profits of unchecked, rampant logging to pay the costs of a brutal 14-year war. Such evidence—collected at great personal risk to Silas and members of the SDI and SAMFU—led the United Nations Security Council to ban the export of Liberian timber.

Yu Xiaogang, 55, China Chinese environmentalist Yu Xiaogang spent years creating groundbreaking watershed management programs while researching and documenting the socioeconomic impact dams had on local Chinese communities. His reports are credited as being a primary reason the central government has paid additional restitution to villagers displaced by existing dams and created new guidelines calling for social impact assessments when planning major developments.

Olya Melen, 26, Ukraine Melen used legal channels to challenge the government’s plan to build a major canal that would have cut through protected wetlands in the Danube Delta, one of the most valuable wetlands in Europe. For her efforts, she came under critical scrutiny by officials in the notoriously corrupt pre-Orange Revolution regime, under which few spoke out against the government for fear of death or being “disappeared.”

Anne Kajir, 32, Papua New Guinea Attorney Anne Kajir uncovered evidence of widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government that allowed rampant, illegal logging that is destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region In 1997, her first year practicing law, Kajir successfully defended a precedent-setting appeal in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea that forced the logging interests to pay damages to indigenous land owners.

Craig E. Williams, 58, Kentucky Williams convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate decaying caches of chemical weapons stockpiled around the United States, and has built a nationwide grassroots coalition to lobby for safe disposal solutions. Williams co-founded the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its international campaign to ban landmines.

Tarcisio Feitosa da Silva, 35, Brazil Feitosa has led a successful campaign to create a mosaic of protected areas that together with existing indigenous lands make up a 240,000 square kilometer (93,000 mi²) corridor area that is bigger than the state of Minnesota and is the largest area of protected tropical forest in the world. Despite death threats, he has exposed illegal logging activities to the Brazilian government over the past 10 years.

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2008

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