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Environmentalists awarded prestigious prize for grassroots work

Environmentalists awarded prestigious prize for grassroots work

Environmentalists awarded prestigious prize for grassroots work
April 24, 2006

Tonight six grassroots environmentalists will be awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

This year’s winners include a Vietnam veteran fighting Pentagon plans to incinerate chemical weapons stockpiles, a man who tipped the United Nations to illegal logging in war-torn Liberia, the person behind the creation of the world’s largest area of protected tropical rainforest, a lawyer in Ukraine who helped block the construction of canal that would have cut through the heart of the Danube Delta, a woman who won resitution for indigenous land owners from logging interests in Papua New Guinea, and a researcher who pushed social impact assessments for major dam developments in China.

The $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 17th year, is awarded annually to six grassroots environmental heroes and is the largest award of its kind in the world. The prize — estalished by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman — has has been awarded to 113 people from 67 countries since 1990. Winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals.

This year’s winners imclude:

North America: Craig E. Williams, 58, Kentucky: Williams convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate old chemical weapons stockpiled around the United States and has built a nationwide grassroots coalition to lobby for safe disposal solutions. Williams co-founded the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its international campaign to ban landmines.

Silas Siakor at the UN airport in Monrovia.
Photo by Andy Black

Africa: Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, 36, Liberia: Siakor exposed evidence that former Liberia President Charles Taylor used profits of unchecked, rampant logging to pay the costs of a brutal 14-year war. Such evidence — collected at great personal risk to Siakor — led the United Nations Security Council to ban the export of Liberian timber, part of wider trade sanctions that remain in place today.

Asia: Yu Xiaogang, 55, China: Yu spent years creating groundbreaking watershed management programs while researching and documenting the socioeconomic impact of dams on Chinese communities. His reports are considered a primary reason that the central government paid additional restitution to villagers displaced by existing dams and now considers social impact assessments for major dam developments.

South & Central America: Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva, 35, Brazil: Feitosa led efforts to create the world’s largest area of protected tropical forest regions in a remote, lawless region in northern Brazil threatened by illegal logging. Despite death threats, Feitosa worked with local organizations to create protected lands for local residents and exposed illegal logging activities to the Brazilian government.

Europe: Olya Melen, 26, Ukraine: Melen, a lawyer, used legal channels to temporarily halt construction of a massive canal that would have cut through the heart of the Danube Delta, one of the world’s most valuable wetlands. For her efforts, she was denounced by the notoriously corrupt and lawless pre-Orange Revolution government.

Islands & Island Nations: Anne Kajir, 32, Papua New Guinea: Kajir uncovered evidence of widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government, which allowed rampant, illegal logging that is destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. In 1997, her first year practicing law, Kajir successfully defended a precedent-setting appeal in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea that forced the logging interests to pay damages to indigenous land owners.

Additional information about the Prize and previous winners is available at

This announcement used press materials from the Goldman Environmental Prize.

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