Rizwina is an environmental lawyer who is working hard to reduce the impact of Bangladesh’s exploitative and environmentally-devastating ship breaking industry. She has spearheaded a legal battle resulting in increased government regulation and heightened public awareness about the dangers of ship breaking. For this, she has just been honoured as the Asia winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize 2009.
Ship breaking is a lucrative yet highly hazardous business. Decommissioned ships from around the world are sent to Bangladesh, where they are dismantled by hand on the beaches by unskilled workers who are often paid less than one dollar per day. Lacking in sufficient mineral deposits for metal mining, Bangladesh relies on the iron and other materials from the ships for some of its metal. The scrap metal, along with other parts of the ships — including sinks, toilets, beds, appliances, and light bulbs — are resold in huge open markets lining the roads of Chittagong, the main ship breaking region.
Ship-breaking is done by around 20,000 workers – mostly young men, some as young as 14, who come from the northern parts of Bangladesh. They are paid very little, housed in the most basic of shelters, and provided with little or no medical care. It is estimated that, on average, one ship breaking worker dies at the yards in Bangladesh every week and every day one worker is injured.
Watch short video film on Rizwana Hasan:
Rizwana Hasan, 40, is a lawyer and Executive Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), a public interest law firm. Growing up in a politically-engaged family, Hasan committed herself to public service and, after receiving her master’s degree in law at age 24, joined BELA. She soon became one of the country’s leading voices for the environment. Today, she manages six offices with nearly 60 staff and is one of the leading young lawyers enrolled with the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.
The Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 20th year, is awarded annually to grassroots environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions and is the largest award of its kind with an individual cash prize of $150,000. This year’s prizes were awarded in San Francisco on 20 April 2009.
The 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients are a group of fearless grassroots leaders taking on government and corporate interests and working to improve the environment for people in their communities. Other winners this year came from Gabon, Indonesia, Russia, Suriname and USA.
Photo and video courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize