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Scientific Innovator and Environmental Champion Wins

One of the world's great environmental thinkers and innovators, who has married life in the glittering halls of academia with on-the-ground livelihood and development schemes for the rural poor, has won this year's prestigious UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.

Ashok Khosla to be given Award at New York Ceremony on 19 November 2002

Nairobi/New York, 30 October 2002 - One of the world's great environmental thinkers and innovators, who has married life in the glittering halls of academia with on-the-ground livelihood and development schemes for the rural poor, has won this year's prestigious UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.

The Prize, worth US$ 200,000 and considered one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world, will be presented at the American Folk Art Museum in New York on 19 November 2002.

Dr. Ashok Khosla has worked tirelessly to demonstrate both the theory and practice of "sustainable development" through his teaching and fostering of environment-friendly and commercially viable technologies. These range from village power plants which use agricultural wastes as fuel to mini factories that recycle paper and local enterprises that make low cost roofing tiles.

Much of his recent work has been achieved through Development Alternatives, a group of organizations headquartered in New Delhi, which he founded in 1983, to help bring people and nature directly into the design and implementation of his nation's development strategies.

He receives the award today from Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Dr. Khosla said: "This award is really for the work of the many, many partners and collaborators with whom I have been privileged to work over the last forty years. It is a wonderful, if unexpected, tribute to their efforts at the desk, in the laboratory and out in the field, courageously experimenting with ideas and action that were mostly unfashionable and often directly opposed to conventional development thinking.

"We set out to improve life in the villages of India and the journey led us to new ways for creating sustainable livelihoods - jobs that use local resources to produce goods and services for the local market, thus generating purchasing power, satisfying basic needs and regenerating the ecosystem, all at the same time. Mini enterprise was the means we found most effective to create these livelihoods and good science, technology and management support systems the best instruments for helping these enterprises meet their triple bottom line imperatives: financial, social and environmental sustainability.

"In the rare cases that conventional development practice has addressed the needs of the poor, it has largely treated them as being unable to take care of themselves. I think we have proved that, in reality, they are well able to stand on their own feet provided they have access to even a few of the things that society freely provides to the rich: basic infrastructure, simple livelihood opportunities, locally adapted technologies, commercial credit and effective marketing channels.

The Development Alternatives model may well have wider applicability in other parts of the developing world. One of our latest ventures, TARAhaat.com, the Internet Portal for rural India, is already beginning to pave the path for such worldwide replication of the more successful of our development initiatives.

"By their very nature, these new telecommunications technologies have multiple entry points and can be tailored to local needs. So they cannot easily be centralized or hijacked by the rich and the powerful. Knowledge, ideas, distance learning and working, can become available equally to the very well off and those not so well off in poorer countries and rural areas. There is still much to be done, not least the investment needed to wire and connect the remote areas of the poorer countries in Asia, Africa or Latin America," said Dr. Khosla.

"But in comparison with the building of roads, ports, factories and whole cities, these new technologies can provide huge development benefits at a fraction of the cost, financially or environmentally," he said.

At the award presentation ceremony, Mr. Jan Pronk, former Minister of Environment of The Netherlands and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, will deliver the Pastrana Borrero Lecture.

This was established by UNEP in 1999 to enhance the current environment agenda in the true spirit of the late Chairman of the Prize selection committee and former President of Colombia, H.E. Misael Pastrana Borrero.

"Dr. Khosla has been a tireless defender of the environment for more than three decades. His work has had a large ripple effect, not only in India but around the world," said Lord Clinton-Davis, Chairman of the selection committee.

"Khosla's unique contribution to environmental thought and action is as a result of his focus on dealing with the root causes of environmental problems through the organizations he has created. These have offered pragmatic, sensible and life-changing solutions to the burning issues we face: namely how to achieve economic development that respects people and the environment. One of his great achievements has been to bring government institutions on board, creating partnerships that last and rural programmes that endure," said Mr. Toepfer.

Although Khosla's central commitment from the start has been to raise the quality of life of India's rural poor and to improve the quality of its environment, he has unstintingly given of his time for environmental causes on the larger global scale. He has taken active part in the policy and decision-making bodies of many of the largest environmental organizations in the world, including IUCN, WWF, IISD, the United States Academy of Sciences, the Club of Rome and a dozen others - always championing the wider issues of environmentally sustainable development.

Dr. Khosla was a leading member of Professor Roger Revelle's team at Harvard University that designed and taught the first undergraduate course on the environment in the early 1960s. Many features of the complex interactions between the environment and economic systems, human population and natural resources were recognized and explored in this ground-breaking course - some of the impacts of which are documented in the book The Earth in Balance written by one student of the course, former United States Vice-President, Mr. Al Gore.

In 1972, he became the founding director of the Government of India's Office of Environmental Planning and Coordination, the first national environmental agency in a developing country. Over the next five years, he pioneered the design and implementation of the basic systems and structures needed to integrate the environment into the development process of a developing economy and to set and meet national environmental goals.

In 1983, Khosla founded the Development Alternatives (DA), a group of organizations whose mission is to help make national development strategies in India become more environmentally and socially sustainable. Today, DA, the first major NGO specifically dedicated to environmentally sound development and one of the first major international NGOs headquartered in a developing country, is one of the leading environmental agencies in the country and is recognized as a premier institution concerned with the environment and sustainable development. Some of DA's more significant achievements include:

  • Introduction into the market of more than 15 new environmentally sound and commercially viable technologies. These include machines for weaving handloom textiles, making recycled paper and fabricating low-cost roofing materials, devices that use renewable energy for cooking, lighting and electricity, and the construction of low-cost housing;
  • The provision, directly and indirectly, of products, technologies and job opportunities to several hundred thousand people spread over all the states of India
  • The reclamation of some 5,000 hectares of degraded land with innovative reforestation, watershed management and ground water recharge
  • The development of a fully operational Global Information System (GIS) facility and innovative products for regional planning
  • The establishment of the first Internet Portal for rural India, TARAhaat.com and a rapidly growing network of cyber cafes to provide access to up-to-date environmental information for villagers
  • The installation of several decentralized power stations based on renewable biomass, leading to multiple environmental benefits.

"Given the growing sense of helplessness everywhere generated by the failures and disasters that permeate the news everyday," said Dr. Khosla. "The Sasakawa Award is an extraordinarily valuable contribution by UNEP and the Nippon Foundation to restore a feeling of hope by recognizing some of the myriad attempts all over the world to make our planet a better place for all. I feel most fortunate to be considered one of them."

  • Note to Editors
  • A complete biography and photograph of Dr. Ashok Khosla are available.
  • The UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation and founded by the late Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa, has been awarded annually since 1984 to individuals who have made outstanding global contributions to the management and protection of the environment.
  • Past winners include: Nobel laureate, Professor Mario J. Molina for discovering a new reaction sequence involving chlorine peroxide, which accounts for most of the ozone destruction in the Antarctic; Chico Mendes, the rubber tapper from Brazil who died leading the fight against cattle ranchers' destruction of the rainforest; Lester Brown, former Director of the Worldwatch Institute, whose writings were instrumental in alerting the world about the threats to the biosphere; Dr. M. S. Swaminathan of India, father of the economic ecology movement; and Ian Kiernan of Australia, founder of the Clean Up the World campaign in which more than 120 countries participate.
  • The 2002 Prize winner was selected on 2 July 2002 by an independent and distinguished panel of international leaders and environmentalists chaired by Lord Clinton-Davis, Chairman of Europe 21, Joint President of the Society of Labour Lawyers, a Life Peer of the House of Lords and former Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry in the United Kingdom.

For more information and to obtain the 2003 nomination forms, please contact:

Eric Falt, Spokesman/Director, UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information on tel: (254-20) 62 3292, fax: (254-20) 62 3927, e-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Secretary, UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, P. O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya, tel: (254-20) 62 3401, fax: (254-20) 62 3692, e-mail: elisabeth.guilbaud-cox@unep.org

In New York, contact UNEP's Information Officer, Jim Sniffen on tel: (212) 963-8094, e-mail: sniffenj@un.org

UNEP News Release 2002/76

Wednesday 30 Oct 2002
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