This is the first in a series of blogs on the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners.
The Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded annually to six environmental heroes whose local and community-based efforts to protect natural resources have created significant change, often at great personal risk. Each recipient receives an award of US$150,000 to continue their inspiring work.
The Goldman Environmental Foundation recently announced the 2012 winners, and today we highlight three of this year's six recipients of the prestigious prize: Ikal Angelie of Kenya, Ma Jun of China, and Evengina Chirikova of Russia.
Since 2008, Ikal Angelei has been fighting the Ethiopian government's construction of the Gibe 3 Dam along the Omo River. The project threatens to rapidly deplete the already dwindling water levels of East Africa's Rift Valley's Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake and home to a thriving ecosystem which provides a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of farmers, herdsmen, and fishermen.
In 2011, her organization, Friends of Lake Turkana, a group comprised of indigenous communities dependent on the lake's resources, successfully urged members of the Kenyan parliament to demand an independent environmental assessment of the dam from Ethiopia before they continue with construction. Friends of Lake Turkana also convinced major investors in the project, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, to withdraw their consideration for financing the dam, leaving the Ethiopian government struggling to find funding to continue the project.
As the founder of China's Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, Ma Jun monitors, organizes, and publishes data from the Chinese government on local and multinational companies' compliance with environmental regulations. In urban China, residents face daily exposure to toxic levels of pollution from the manufacturing and sourcing operations of multinational corporations who operate with little accountability from the Chinese government. Jun and his team have exposed over 90,000 air and water violations by local and multinational companies working in China and convinced 500 of these companies to disclose their plans and efforts to meet environmental standards.
In 2007 the Russian government announced plans to build a highway dissecting the Khimki Forest, 2,500 acres of federally protected parkland in the Moscow suburb where Evengina Chirikova resided with her two daughters. After learning about the plan, Chirikova left her engineering job to organize a group of concerned citizens called Defend Khimki Forest.
The group has organized signature drives and held rallies that draw tens of thousands of people, helping convince the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, to withdraw their funding for the highway. Because of their work, Chirikova and her group have faced constant threats on them and their families from government officials, and Chirikova herself has been arrested and detained numerous times. Despite the hostility, the group remains a powerful voice of democracy and dissent in a society that faces political and civil repression.
To read more about the inspiring work of these activists check out the Goldman Environmental Prize website here and stay tuned for more about other 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize winners.
Alison Blackmore is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.