2001

Bruno Van Peteghem

Last Name: 
Van Peteghem

Bruno Van Peteghem worked against time and mining interests to protect New Caledonia’s reefs from destruction. On a fragile island where environmental regulations do not exist, he has confronted severe intimidation including the suspicious burning of his home. Read more »

First Name: 
Bruno
Country: 
New Caledonia
Bio: 

The coral reef of New Caledonia is among the world's largest and most unique. Its geography provides protection from deadly global warming bleaching that plagues most coral reefs. The most serious danger to the reef comes from nickel mining, the island's largest industry. With the support of New Caledonia's dominant ruling party, the RPCR (Rassemblement Pour le Caledonie dans la Republique), the International Nickel Company of Canada made plans to dig up large portions of the reef for calcium carbonate to neutralize its acidic tailings. Numerous other companies were also ready to proceed with this same process, and New Caledonia had no laws to prevent such a catastrophe.

Bruno Van Peteghem's campaign to place the reef on UNESCO's World Heritage List was the coral's best hope for protection. He and two organizations he co-founded, the New Caledonian Greens (Les Verts Pacifique) and Living Coral (Corail Vivant), lead a coalition of organizations and indigenous communities to save the reef. Despite serious challenges from the RPCR, Corail Vivant sought to join the International Coral Reefs Initiative. The campaign was bolstered when it received key backing from leadership of the political party representing the island's indigenous Melaneisan people. 

Today, Van Peteghem lives and works in France where he continues to serve as an advocate for the environment. Peteghem works as an advisor for Association Toxicologie-Chime (ATC), an organization that consults businesses and citizens about toxic chemicals. Peteghem and the team at ATC recently presented representatives from every level of the French government with a 50-page document detailing the harmful effects of fracking. By providing telling information and applying constant pressure to the government, ATC’s work proved to be essential for getting a nationwide ban pn fracking passed in France.

Quote: 

"Man and nature are inseparable. If we ignore this, we perish. Survival of the coral hinges on human activities everywhere -- on land, in the sea and in the atmosphere. We still have time."

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Eugène Rutagarama

Last Name: 
Rutagarama

A conservationist, Eugène Rutagarama risked his life to save 355 of the world’s last 650 mountain gorillas that were threatened by Rwanda’s war and massacres in the 1990s. He helped rebuild the national parks system and protect gorilla habitat. Read more »

First Name: 
Eugène
Country: 
Rwanda
Bio: 

The human suffering in Rwanda during the 1990s was incalculable, but without intervention the victims of war might have included a group of humanity's most endangered relatives mountain gorillas. Only about 650 mountain gorillas exist worldwide, some 355 in the Volcano National Park in the Virungas mountains straddling Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thanks to Eugène Rutagarama, the Virungas' fragile mountain gorilla population survived the war and the recent conflicts in the DRC. Indeed, the population has grown by 11 percent since 1989. Identified as a Tutsi, Rutagarama has endured a lifetime of persecution from the country's Hutu extremists. He escaped prison in 1991 and fled to Burundi with his family. Following the 1994 genocide, which took the lives of most of Rutagarama's relatives, he returned to Rwanda to help revive the weakened national parks. Although tourism provides important income to Rwanda, the protected areas administered by the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks were in jeopardy as the government tried to resettle more than two million people. Rutagarama created and garnered support for a strategic plan that led to the agency's rehabilitation, ensuring that the protected areas and mountain gorilla habitat were not overrun. Risking his life, he repeatedly traveled to hostile territories to deliver funds and supplies to park rangers in the DRC so they could continue their work. Today, Rutagarama works for the International Gorilla Conservation Program, rebuilding ecotourism, monitoring the mountain gorillas and building relationships with the communities near the parks.

Quote: 

"After a humanitarian disaster as horrific as genocide, the common struggle to preserve something of shared value, like the natural environment, can form an ideal for people to believe in. The opportunity and obligation to protect something precious can assist the reconstruction of a devastated society."

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Oscar Olivera

Last Name: 
Olivera

A labor leader, Oscar Olivera advocated for affordable, clean water when the city’s water system was privatized. After a brutal crackdown, he emerged and continued protests and negotiations that forced the government to cancel the sale. Read more »

First Name: 
Oscar
Country: 
Bolivia
Bio: 

In 1999, the Bolivian government responded to structural adjustment policies of the World Bank by privatizing the water system of its third largest city, Cochabamba. The government granted a 40-year concession to run the debt-ridden system to a consortium led by Italian-owned International Water Limited and U.S.-based Bechtel Enterprise Holdings. The consortium also included minority investment from Bolivia. The newly privatized water company immediately raised prices. With the minimum wage at less than $65 a month, many of the poor had water bills of $20 or more. Water collection also required the purchase of permits, which threatened the access to water for the poorest citizens. Oscar Olivera, executive secretary of the Cochabamba Federation of Factory Workers and spokesperson for the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, known as La Coordinadora, led demands for the water system to stay under local public control. Thousand of citizens protested for weeks. The Bolivian army killed one, injured hundreds and arrested several Coalition leaders. Olivera, who had been forced into hiding, emerged to negotiate with the government. In April 2000, La Coordinadora won its demands when the government turned over control of the city's water system, including its $35 million debt, to the organization and cancelled the privatization contract. La Coordinadora achieved the first major victory against the global trend of privatizing water resources. Olivera continues to head La Coordinadora's work to develop a water system that relies neither on corrupt government management nor on transnational corporations.

Quote: 

"After 15 years of structural adjustment, when we thought that the most important human values had been wrested from us, when we thought we were incapable of overcoming fear, of having the ability to organize and unite, when we no longer believed we could make our voices heard, then our humble, simple, and hard-working people -- men, women, children and the elderly -- demonstrated to the country and to the world that all this is still possible."

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