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.

Breathing Hope into Kabul: Prince Mostapha Zaher, TIME Hero of the Environment 2009

Prince Mostapha Zaher (left) with Indian film-maker Rohit Gandhi in Kabul

Prince Mostapha Zaher (left) with Rohit Gandhi in Kabul

I haven’t yet met Prince Mostapha Zaher in person, but feel almost as if I have. That’s because he features prominently in a short documentary film we released earlier this year on the environmental problems in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan — where he is now the environmental chief, and where his grandfather was Afghanistan’s last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah (1914-2007).

In January 2009, I was watching a rough edit of the film (Breathing Life into Kabul) in Delhi, where Indian film-maker Rohit Gandhi was putting it together. In the interview, Mostapha Zaher came across as authoritative and resolute.

And does he have formidable challenges to deal with! Since the Taliban regime fell in 2001, people have been returning to Afghanistan after years in neighbouring countries. This massive influx is exerting pressure on the resources and infrastructure of the capital Kabul. Among the effects are high levels of air and water pollution, massive shortages of electricity and mounting problems waste.

Addressing these and other environmental issues is made that much more difficult because Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia, where large parts of the country are still engulfed in a prolonged conflict with extremists and the Taliban.

Prince Mostapha Zaher, photographed for TIME

Prince Mostapha Zaher, photographed for TIME

For staying the course in this daunting task, Prince Mostapha Zaher has just been named as one of TIME Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment 2009. He is among ‘Leaders and Visionaries’ from around the world selected by the editors of the international news magazine. The list includes President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, Hollywood star Cameron Diaz, and Indian film maker Mike Pandey.

TIME describes how Zaher gave up his comfortable post as ambassador to Italy to take up the job of director of Afghanistan’s newly formed Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) in 2004.

Says TIME: “Since then he has worked to rewrite the nation’s environmental laws, enshrining in the constitution an act that declares it the responsibility of every Afghan citizen to “protect the environment, conserve the environment and to hand it over to the next generation in the most pristine condition possible.” In a country ravaged by 25 years of war, it was an extraordinary feat.”

TVE Asia Pacific’s short film looks at how the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working with NEPA to develop environmental laws, policies and standards.

Watch Breathing hope into Kabul (10 mins):

Read full profile of Prince Mostapha Zaher in TIME Heroes of the Environment 2009

TVEAP News: New film documents environmental restoration in Afghan capital