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Green Lawyers Among Winners of UNEP Environment Awards

A Briton who championed the cause of the great apes and the rhino before tragically dying in an air crash is among this year’s winners of the prestigious UNEP Global 500 Award.

‘Green’ Lawyers, Saharan Water Project and Great Ape Champion Among Winners of UNEP Environment Awards

World Environment Day 5 June: Water - Two Billion People Are Dying For It!

Beirut/Nairobi, 26 May 2003 – A Briton who championed the cause of the great apes and the rhino before tragically dying in an air crash; an Indian whose eco-friendly toilet is transforming the health and lives of the urban poor, and a Lebanese journalist who has almost single-handedly brought crucial environmental issues to the attention of the Arab world are among this year’s winners of the prestigious UNEP Global 500 Award.

They are joined by an individual from Niger whose company is delivering “sustainable development in action” by using gum arabic to boost farmers’ incomes while rehabilitating West African dry lands, and a litter-busting brigade of Nepalese women who have transformed waste management in this Himalayan mountain kingdom.

A team of Bangladeshi lawyers who are bringing environmental and social justice to their country; a visionary Frenchman who, over half a century ago, recognized and pressed for the need for national parks; and a children’s group, which helped cut water wastage among communities in the Algerian Sahara, complete the octet of this year’s winners.

Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will present the 2003 Global 500 laureates with their award for outstanding achievement at the World Environment Day (WED) celebrations in Beirut.

WED, which is held annually on 5 June, is being hosted this year in the Lebanon - the first time it has been held in the Arab world - with the slogan Water: Two Billion People Are Dying for It!  2003 is also the United Nations International Year of Freshwater.

Mr Toepfer said: “ Every year it is our privilege to recognize those individuals and groups who have gone beyond the rhetoric and the grand-standing, who have seized the issues and transformed a dream into reality, turned ideas into action on the ground”.

“At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) last year in Johannesburg, governments committed themselves to a Plan of Implementation. Our winners have already, and for many years, been implementing their own plans covering such wide ranging issues as wildlife conservation and wise use of water to environmental law, journalism, sanitation and sustainable agriculture.  In doing so, they have not only raised awareness, but triggered profound and long lasting changes in the way people live their lives,” he said.

Mr Toepfer added: “Governments alone are unlikely to achieve much without the support of all sectors of civil society, without the inspiration of individuals and small, dedicated grassroots groups, like those we are applauding on World Environment Day. Let us hope that their imagination and sheer hard work will show that the impossible is only in our minds and that, together, we can deliver development that lasts and prosperity that respects people and the planet”.

The Adult Category Winners

Serge M. Antoine -- France
Very few people in France, or in the Mediterranean region, have devoted as much imagination, energy and intelligence to the cause of the environment as Serge Antoine.

As early as the 1950s, he saw the need for a better protection of natural areas in France.  His actions led to two major decisions: the adoption of a new form of regional planning and the setting up of the "Parcs Naturels Regionaux" - similar to biosphere reserves.

Mr Antoine played a major role in the creation of the Ministry of Environment and was Secretary-General of the High Committee for Environment.  He took an active part in the preparations for the Stockholm Conference and in the creation of UNEP.

He was instrumental in negotiating the 1976 Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean and launched the idea of a study of the region, which became the Blue Plan.  In 1996, he advocated the setting up of a Mediterranean Commission for Environment and Development.

Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)
The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) was set up by a group of young lawyers in 1991. Over the years, BELA has become a true pressure group against environmental violations.

With 60% of the total population in Bangladesh estimated at having no access to justice, BELA is considered a pioneer in public interest environmental litigation (PIEL).  As an environmental organization, it has filed 38 cases of which 12 have been decided in favour of the cause while the rest are pending.

Other major achievements of BELA include the opening up of PIEL in Bangladesh; recognition of 'right to life' as part of Constitutional 'right to life'; directive judgements in mitigating industrial pollution; vehicular pollution and addressing payment of environmental compensation in development projects.

Annelisa Kilbourn -- UK
Dr. Kilbourn worked some 16 hours a day, seven days a week, in her efforts to save the great apes, the elephant and the rhino.

She conducted the first research on the health of orang-utans in Sabah, Malaysia where she also helped to train local experts, and assisted the government in the translocation of orang-utans and elephants to safe havens.

For the organization SOS Rhino, Dr Kilbourn took on the task of helping to protect the last remaining rhinos in Borneo.  If there is any hope left for the survival of the rhino in Borneo, much of it is due to Dr. Kilbourn's tireless efforts to bring all those concerned together and help to implement a plan on the ground.

For WCS's Field Veterinary Programme, she broke new ground with the lowland gorilla health programme in Central Africa.  She quickly built trust and working relationships with local people, researchers, park managers and government officials at six sites in three countries.

Dr. Kilbourn's training of field teams allowed her to lead investigations into last year's deadly Ebola Virus outbreak, and her work in the field produced the first proof that gorillas are infected and quickly die of the virus – information which may serve to protect both gorillas and humans.

She tragically died in a plane crash in Gabon, in November 2002, whilst working on her research into the Ebola virus and western lowland gorillas.


Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak -- India
In India, 700 million people and 120 million households have no toilets. To address this situation, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the Sulabh International Social Service Organization, developed the technology of a twin-pit, pour-flush toilet known as Sulabh Shauchalaya, of which one million have been constructed.

This environment friendly technology provides on-site disposal with no smell and soil pollution, and it conserves water.  Through this development, there has been a massive change in the attitude and behaviour of people towards sanitation.  Indians now readily pay user charges in some 5,500 Sulabh public toilets.

Biogas production from human excreta in 100 public toilets and its various uses, for example lighting and cooking, and the use of effluent as rich fertilizer is one of his hallmark contributions.

To the biogas plant is attached to the Sulabh effluent plant, whereby water discharged is made colourless, odourless and pathogen-free, fit for discharge into any water-body, promoting a better and healthier environment.  In both the technologies, there is production of organic nutrient-rich fertilizer and re-use and recycling of waste matter.

Najib Saab--Lebanon
Through Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia (Environment and Development) magazine, which he launched as a private initiative, Najib Saab has triggered an unprecedented environmental public awareness campaign in the Middle East, bringing environmental concerns to the Arab public-at-large and creating a regional environmental advocacy forum.

The influential magazine has a circulation of 38,500 in 22 countries. It is used in schools, and its articles as a main reference for environmental curricula.  Mr Saab's editorials on sustainable development issues in the Middle East are syndicated to 10 daily newspapers.

Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia sponsors more than 360 environmental clubs in schools, and supports them with education material and training. Mr Saab has produced a weekly environmental education television programme entitled Environment Club - a pioneering effort in the region.

He has succeeded, again through his own initiative, to build around the magazine a pan-Arab environmental movement, which strongly helped place the environment on the agenda of both the public and the private sectors.  By creating a vibrant environmental forum, he has accomplished what official bodies in the region could not satisfactorily develop over the years.

Boureima Wankoye -- Niger
Boureima Wankoye is president of Achats Service International (ASI). The company introduced the mass plantation of gum arabic for export to Europe in the dry lands of Niger. This has not only helped rehabilitate degraded land in these areas, but also provided a profitable, income-generating activity for its inhabitants.

The 1,200 hectares of gum arabic are now a source of income for more than 6,000 rural families. The re-afforestation work has also helped preserve almost extinct animal species, and created value for African agricultural products in the world market.

It has also drawn attention to the value of gum arabic - which requires little water and no fertilizer and can be used for commercial purposes such as soft drinks and cosmetics - as a mechanism for profit-generating agricultural production in dry land rural areas.

The project has paved the way for the establishment of other such enterprises in dry lands throughout the country and around the region.

Women Environment Preservation Committee (WEPCO) -- Nepal
The Women Environment Preservation Committee (WEPCO) is a non-profit organization established in 1992 by a group of women from Lalitpur.   It was born in response to a growing awareness that the environment in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal was in danger as a result of a rising mountain of waste.

WEPCO, which collects and manages garbage from more than 3,000 households from Lalitpur, has proved that using the three “R” principle (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) at the community level can control waste pollution problems in an urban municipality.

WEPCO established demonstration sites for paper recycling and organic and vermin compost and has supported many households to start their own composting.  WEPCO has a staff of 15 women and 10 men who are supported through the sale of recycled paper and garbage collection services.

Youth Category Winners
Salle Pedagogique des Zones Arides – Algeria (The only winner in the Youth Category)
In 1998 the children of the Beni Abbes' Salle Pedagogique des Zones Arides in the southwest of the Algerian Sahara decided to carry out a survey on the problems of water and its management within households.

The target group consisted of 500 families in El Wata and 500 families in Beni Abbes.  The results of the survey showed that there was significant wastage, with wastewater disposed of untreated, increasing wastewater volumes and possible pollution of the groundwater.

With their teachers' backing, they decided to set up a small experimental lagoon system.  In December 1999, this was carried out with assistance from the Popular Communal Assembly, which enabled a water engineer to participate.

The neighbouring ‘fellahin’, who saw production in their plots increase, became partners in the project.  A film Nest of Nurseries was shot telling the story of how the lagoon system was born, in the context of preparations for the international exhibition in Hanover, Germany with the help of ENTV (Algerian Television).

Notes to Editors: Each year, the main World Environment Day (WED) celebrations are held in a city at the invitation of the Government. This year it will be in Beirut.  WED, considered one of the most important events on the environment calendar, is celebrated every year in more than 100 countries.

The occasion serves to inspire political and community action. Governments, individuals, non-governmental organizations, community and youth groups, business, industry and the media undertake a variety of activities aimed at renewing their commitment to the protection of the environment.

Individuals and organizations are invited to post details about their planned WED events and learn about what others are doing to celebrate WED across the globe. World Environment Day web site: www.unep.org/wed

For more information, please contact: Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information (DCPI), on Tel: 254-(0) 20-623292, Mobile: 254- (0) 733-682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, DCPI, on Tel: 254-(0) 20-623084, Mobile:254-(0)733-632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

UNEP News Release: 2003/25

Monday 26 May 2003
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