Goldman Awards Roundup: Wild Rivers, Old Growth Forest, Arctic Health

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Ikal Angelei on the shores of Lake Turkana. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

Running Ethiopia's Omo River can be a serious adventure, as we described here in 2008, but more importantly, the river is a lifeline for those who rely on the water and fish of Lake Turkana, at Omo's terminus. Plans to build a massive hydroelectric dam on the Omo, however, would have changed all that — were it not for the tenacity of 31-year-old Ethiopian Ikal Angelei. A public policy expert and political scientist, Angelei founded Friends of Lake Turkana and rallied many communities around the lake to rise up and fight the Gibe 3 Dam, which would have been the largest in Africa.

They appealed to the various funding sources, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, and demanded that they defund the $60 billion project. While it would serve as a significant power source for Ethiopia and Kenya, it also would cut off local food sources and harm the lake, a crocodile-rich World Heritage Site and an anthropological hot spot.

Kenya's Parliament has agreed to put the project on hold, and mandated that the government commission an independent environment assessment from Ethiopia, reports the New York Times. That means the dam isn't totally dead, and the Chinese government is looking at reviving it. But the project has come under a global microscope, thanks to Angelei and her efforts, which earned has her 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize.

The Goldman Environmental Prize bestows the world's largest awards for individual activism, recognizing and awarding $150,000 to each of six grassroots environmental heroes each year.

Other recipients of the 2012 prizes, which were announced today, include Evgenia Chirikova, who has fought to preserve Russia's Khimki Forest; Caroline Cannon, who is fighting oil exploration off the coast of her home in Point Hope, Alaska; Ma Jun, who is fighting for environmental sustainability among Chinese corporations; Edwin Gariguez, a Filipino Catholic priest who has started a grassroots campaign against a nickel mine; and Sofia Garita, an Argentinian mother who lost a child to pesticide poisoning and is now fighting the use of petrochemicals sprayed on soy fields.

Evgenia Chirikova has risked her life to fight a proposed highway that would connect Moscow and St. Petersburg, cutting through the 2,500 acre Khimki Forest. An engineer and mother, she moved to the town of Khimki, on the old growth forest's edge, looking for a respite from Moscow's dirty air and congestion. She started a grassroots group called Defend Khimki Forest, which has had some success in defunding the project, but there have already been casualties in the form of activists and journalists suffering brutal beatings and jail time. The Russian government still wants to pursue the original project rather than divert the road around the forest, but Chirikova has succeeded in sparking one of the largest environmental movements in Russian history.

A leader within the community of 700 Inupiat people of Point Hope, a remote village on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle, Caroline Cannon is fighting the movement to ply Arctic waters, looking for oil reserves. She represented Point Hope as a co-plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging a set of leases that were part of a 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas development plan. In 2009, a federal court ruled that the proposed oil and gas leases failed to consider the significant impacts to the region’s marine environment. 

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