Ikal Angelei, Founder of Friends of Lake Turkana

River Activists Win 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize

Sunday, April 15, 2012


San Francisco, CA - Today, two dynamic river activists from Kenya and China became the latest winners of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. These two river defenders - Ikal Angelei, Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, and Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs - join four other inspiring leaders from around the globe in accepting the prize tonight in San Francisco.

Ikal Angelei is the first dam fighter from Africa to win the prize. Her tenacious efforts to stop the Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia ensured that Kenyan decision makers were keenly aware of the project's terrible impacts on Kenya's Lake Turkana - the world's largest desert lake - prompting the Kenyan Parliament to pass a unanimous resolution to demand an independent environmental assessment from Ethiopia; helped to draw UN condemnation of the project and a resolution from UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to halt dam construction until further investigation; and brought international attention to the roughly 500,000 people whose lives and livelihoods would be devastated if the dam is completed.

Says Lori Pottinger, Africa Campaigner for International Rivers, "Ikal Angelei is highly deserving of this prestigious prize for her courageous work on behalf of the people of Lake Turkana and the lower Omo River Valley, and for her standing as a leader in environmental justice for Africa. We are hopeful that the stature of the prize will help Ikal in her efforts to force the government of Kenya to rethink purchasing electricity from this destructive project."

The prize comes at an important juncture in the struggle to stop Gibe III. Ikal's efforts have helped prevent the Ethiopian government from gaining international financial support for its environmentally and socially destructive dam scheme. Now, the World Bank and African Development Bank are considering funding the transmission line that would justify completing the highly controversial project. In coming weeks, Ikal and International Rivers will be pressuring the banks to stay out of this project, which, by association, would be as devastating as the dam it would support.

Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, China
Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, China
Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize

Chinese journalist Ma Jun was awarded a 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for creating unprecedented environmental transparency in China and empowering Chinese citizens to demand justice for industrial pollution. Ma Jun is also the author of the groundbreaking book "China's Water Crisis" - sometimes referred to as the "Silent Spring" for China - which exposed the crisis of water pollution and the impacts of dams and diversions on the health of rivers across China.

"Awarding Ikal Angelei and Ma Jun with Goldman Prizes will help bring attention to the grave threats facing the Earth's great river systems," states Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers. "While governments and energy corporations dither in their responsibilities for meaningful climate protection policies, they're hedging their bets on rivers. The current global hydropower surge is unprecedented, and largely under the radar. These courageous and visionary leaders from China and Africa understand that protection of the world's rivers depends on deepening public participation in decision-making, and broadening the movement to advance energy and water solutions that are climate resilient and foster sustainable livelihoods."

Ma Jun and Ikal Angelei add to a growing list of river and dam activists who have won the prize, sometimes called the "Green Nobel Prize." Past winners include dam fighters Dai Qing and Yu Xiaogang of China, Medha Patkar of India, Pedro Arrojo of Spain, János Vargha of Hungary, Juan Pablo Orrego of Chile, Robert Brown of Australia, and Elias Diaz Peña and Oscar Rivas of Paraguay.

Founded in 1985, International Rivers is an NGO with offices in four continents with a mission to protect rivers and defends the rights of communities that depend on them. We support a global network of civil society organizations and dam-affected communities that campaign to stop destructive dams and promote water and energy solutions for a just and sustainable world.


Media contacts: 

Jason Rainey, Executive Director, International Rivers, +1 530 264 6879, jrainey@internationalrivers.org