NEW YORK (IDN | GIN) – Once the ancestral land of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, the Tarangire national park in Tanzania found itself in the crosshairs of tourist developers carving up the wilderness for fancy lodges, luxury tents and other rich tourist amenities.
Lands once shared with the wildebeest, the zebra, and majestic old baobab trees were being “grabbed” by government or companies, without compensation to the Masaai and Hadzaba who resided there.
As countries around the world prepared to mark Earth Day on April 22, the Goldman Environmental Foundation honoured six grassroots leaders including Edward Loure of Tanzania for defending lands at risk from profit-seeking developers.
Along with Loure, prizewinners included Destiny Watford, a Black American, Maxima Acuna from Peru, Louis Jorge Rivera Herrera from Puerto Rico, Leng Ouch from Cambodia and Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia. They received a check for $175,000 at a ceremony on April 18 at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.
In Tanzania, Loure observed that communities without land titles were unable to beat back safari companies and multinationals in eviction cases that went to court. Working with the nonprofit Ujamaa Community Resource Team, Loure spent a decade documenting the land rights of native communities. He secured titles for more than 200,000 acres of land for the Maasai and Hadzabe people. A further 800,000 will be protected by next year.
“People had no legal documents, no security,” he said. “Nothing was documented…Many villages had lost huge amounts of land and received no compensation. Now they can show that the land belongs to them. Until now, government or anyone could claim that it was not owned by anyone and do what they want.”
Twenty-year-old Destiny Watford was honoured for her four-year fight against a potentially hazardous trash incinerator slated to be built in her south Baltimore neighborhood of Curtis Bay. The plant is now stalled and may be cancelled.
“She distinguished herself with her ability to use writing and creative expression through video,” said local activist Greg Sawtell. “Older people said they got involved from their doors being knocked on by Destiny. She inspired a multigenerational struggle. She showed a lot of wisdom and patience.”
A public interest lawyer and mother of two, Zuzana Čaputová spearheaded a successful campaign that shut down a toxic waste dump that was poisoning the land, air and water in her community, setting a precedent for public participation in post-communist Slovakia.
In one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists, Leng Ouch went undercover to document illegal logging in Cambodia and exposed the corruption robbing rural communities of their land, causing the government to cancel large land concessions.
Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera helped lead a successful campaign to establish a nature reserve in Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor – an important nesting ground for the endangered leatherback sea turtle – and protect the island’s natural heritage from harmful development.
A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Máxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a property sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine. [IDN | INPS – 19 April 2016]
Photo: 2016 Goldman Prize Winners (left to right) Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, Puerto Rico: Destiny Watford, United States; Edward Loure, Tanzania; Leng Ouch, Cambodia; Máxima Acuña, Peru; and Zuzana Čaputová, Slovakia. Credit: Goldmanprize.org
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