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2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners Risk Their Lives

The Goldman Environmental Foundation announced the winners of their prize given to people who protect the environment and their communities, often at risk of their lives.

2012 Goldman Prize winners: from left, front: Edwin Gariguez, Caroline Cannon, rear: Evgenia Chirikova, Ma Jun, Ikal Angelei, Sofia Gatica
Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Foundation


SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 16, 2012 (ENS) - The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the six winners of the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize, people who protect the environment and their communities, often at risk of their lives. 

Now in its 23rd year, the Goldman Environmental Prize, is awarded annually to "grassroots environmental heroes" from each of the world's six inhabited regions. It is the largest award for grassroots activism with an individual cash prize of $150,000 for each winner.

The 2012 winners will be awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony this evening at the San Francisco Opera House. A smaller ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC will follow on Wednesday.

The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman.

Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. The jury considers nominations from more than 50 organizations working on environmental issues and 150 environmental experts from more than 70 countries. These nominations are researched and fact-checked over a five-month period, during which time hundreds of references are contacted.

Since 1989, 151 winners from 81 countries have received the Prize for outstanding efforts to preserve and enhance the environment.

Ikal Angelei of Kenya, the 2012 Goldman Prize winner for Africa, has dedicated herself to stopping for the Gibe 3 Dam on the Omo River, source of 90 percent of Lake Turkana's water.

Lake Turkana, a World Heritage Site, is the largest desert lake in the world, populated by crocodiles, hippos, snakes and fish. It serves as a critical water supply for the hundreds of thousands of indigenous farmers, herders and fishermen.

Gibe 3 Dam would be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa, and the fourth largest in the world. The dam is expected to cause the water level in the shrinking lake to drop even farther. Poverty and resource conflicts between communities are likely to increase as a result.

Raised in the Lake Turkana Basin where inter-ethnic violence is rife, Angelei was working at the Turkana Basin Institute, an anthropology research center, when she heard about Ethiopia's construction of the giant dam, begun in 2006.

Outraged that it was being built without consultation with local communities, she founded the group Friends of Lake Turkana, FoLT, in 2008.

Angelei informed elders, chiefs and opinion leaders, none of whom had heard about the dam, and brought together Lake Turkana's divided indigenous communities to fight the dam.

In February 2009, local tribes issued a "Lake Turkana People's Declaration" stating that they had given FoLT the mandate to communicate their grievances regarding the dam.

Angelei took the declaration to Kenyan MPs and Cabinet ministers, urging them to reconsider Kenya's power-purchasing deal with Ethiopia.

In response, in August 2011, the Kenyan Parliament passed a unanimous resolution for the Kenyan government to demand an independent environmental assessment from Ethiopia.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee responded by passing a resolution to halt dam construction pending further investigation.

Angelei convinced major banks, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, to withdraw their financing of the Gibe 3 Dam.

Currently, the Gibe 3 Dam is 40 percent complete and the Ethiopian government is struggling to secure funding. If Kenya pulls out of its power purchase agreement with Ethiopia, it would jeopardize future funding for the project as China, the last big investor, might not be able to justify its investment.

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