Asians prominent in TIME Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment 2009

Celebrating Heroes

Celebrating Heroes

Asian environmental leaders, activists and visionaries feature prominently in TIME Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment 2009 list, published in its issue dated 5 October 2009.

This isn’t surprising, since the Asia Pacific accounts for nearly two thirds of humanity. As I’ve been saying for some years, the quest for sustainable development will be won – or lost – in Asia.

By happy coincidence, I have met three of the two dozen remarkable men and women in this year’s Heroes list — and count two of them among my extended network of friends across Asia.

One friend is the Indian film-maker Mike Pandey, who has been making environment and wildlife films for over 30 years in India, where he is one of the most respected names in conservation circles.

The other is Sheri Liao, Founder of the Global Village of Beijing (GVB), one of the earliest non-governmental organisations addressing environmental issues in China. She is an indefatigable Chinese activist and campaigner whom I first met on my first visit to Beijing in 1996. Our paths have crossed a couple of times since then, and I have always admired her zeal and single-minded pursuit of ‘greening’ China. Added on 17 Oct 2009: Blog post on Sheri Liao and greening the airwaves in China

The third ‘hero’ is the amiable and technocratic Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives. I filmed an exclusive TV interview with him a few weeks ago, which I am currently editing into a short documentary on climate change. His country, the smallest independent state in Asia (by both land area and population), is on the frontlines of impact from rising sea levels and extreme weather events triggered by global warming.

heroes_1005“From saving wild mountain rivers in China to measuring the Arctic’s icy expanse, our green heroes are informed by this simple notion: We can all make a difference,” Time editors wrote in introducing this year’s list.

I just wrote a separate blog post on Prince Mostapha Zaher, Afghanistan’s environmental chief.

And I have already blogged about another TIME Hero well ahead of their selection: environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan, a determined environmental activist who keeps dozens of ships from coming to die on the beaches of her native Bangladesh.

In the coming days and weeks, I plan to write separate posts on these other heroes whose selection is both timely and inspiring to all of us working in the broader development sector.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan: Keeping a sharp eye when ships come to die…

Syeda Rizwana Hasan: Goldman Prize winner 2009

Syeda Rizwana Hasan: Goldman Prize winner 2009

In Greek legend, Helen of Troy was the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’. Now meet Syeda Rizwana Hasan, a determined environmental activist who keeps dozens of ships from coming to die on the beaches of her native Bangladesh.

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.

Read the full profile on Rizwana Hasan on the Goldman Prize website

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.

Watch all prize winners profiled on video

Photo and video courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize