In the Ecuadorian Amazon, Fajardo and Yanza led one of the largest environmental legal battles in history against oil giant Chevron, demanding justice for the massive petoleum in the region. Read more »
Fighting for justice after what has been called one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters in history, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo are leading an unprecedented community-driven legal battle against a global oil giant. According to the plaintiffs, beginning in 1964 and through 1990, Texaco dumped nearly 17 million gallons of crude oil and 20 billion gallons of drilling wastewater directly into the Ecuadorian Amazon. Allegedly suffering from the health effects of the pollution, the region's inhabitants are demanding a complete cleanup in potentially the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed in the world. Yanza co-founded the Amazon Defense Front to organize 30,000 inhabitants of the northern Ecuadorian Amazon in a class-action lawsuit against Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001. The lead lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, a resident of one of the affected communities, has become the public voice of the plaintiffs. Unprecedented Petroleum Pollution The Ecuadorian Amazon contains five percent of all the world's plant and animal species and is one of the most biodiverse places in the Amazon and on Earth. As the region’s primary oil investor in the 1970s and 1980s, Texaco built much of Ecuador's oil infrastructure but chose not to re-inject back into the ground the wastewater and sludge brought up by the drilling process, called formation waters. Instead, according to the plaintiffs, billions of gallons were dumped into the region’s waterways, or left in more than 1,000 unlined, open pits scattered throughout the area. By the company's own estimates, it spilled nearly 17 million gallons of oil into soils and waterways, and another 20 billion gallons of formation waters. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled just over 10 million gallons of oil. In 1992, Texaco left Ecuador, leaving behind what experts and inhabitants call a monumental environmental disaster. To this day, the region's 30,000 inhabitants primarily drink water that has been deemed contaminated by experts involved in the case. According to the plaintiffs, many of the waste pits continue to pollute the rivers, streams and groundwater. In some areas, all water sources are contaminated and few fish survive in the rivers. The plaintiffs claim that prolonged exposure to toxic substances has led to a serious health crisis, and caused people living in such proximity to pollution to suffer dramatically increased incidences of skin disease, respiratory ailments, reproductive disorders and a cancer rate seven times higher than the rest of the country’s population. They also claim that the regional devastation includes more than two million acres of deforestation. Chevron, however, claims the region’s environmental and health problems are not a result of the pollution left behind by Texaco, and that they are no longer responsible. Leading the Community to Seek Justice In 1993, Yanza, working with a team of US-based lawyers, filed a class-action lawsuit against Texaco. Plaintiffs included a coalition of residents brought together by Yanza's organization, including 80 villages and five different indigenous peoples. The initial case against Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) was filed in 1993 in a New York district court, near Texaco’s headquarters. In 1996, a superior court judge dismissed the case, but the plaintiffs filed an appeal and won a reversal of the decision. In 2002, the US Court of Appeals agreed with Chevron's request to send the case to Ecuador. However, the court warned Chevron that US courts would intervene if the company tried to avoid a judgment imposed by the Ecuadorian courts. In May 2003, the 30,000 plaintiffs, led by Fajardo's legal team, filed a lawsuit in Ecuador's northern Amazon, demanding that Chevron pay for a complete cleanup, including removal of all formation waters, debris and equipment; remediation of all contaminated water bodies and lands; recuperation of fauna, flora and aqueous life; and monitoring and improvement of the health of the inhabitants. Chevron does not deny dumping formation waters or oil in the region, but says the resulting contamination has not harmed the inhabitants and it is not responsible for any cleanup. In March 2007, the plaintiffs, with the abundant evidence collected from 45 field inspections, had already proven the existence of extensive contamination, and that further delay was not necessary. The judge issued an order to begin an assessment of the damages, which was carried out by an independent expert, culminating in a report released in April 2008 citing $8.3 - $16 billion in damages. Fajardo and Yanza have been touring the country relentlessly, making the trial an issue of national dignity and sovereignty in anticipation of a final decision in 2008. Long Term Impact The impact of Yanza and Fajardo's efforts on Ecuador's oil industry is already far-reaching. They have publicized the long-term effects on the environment and people, leading the government of Ecuador to pass stronger environmental protection laws. Texaco and Chevron’s legacy in Ecuador is now part of the national collective consciousness. Fajardo and Yanza recently hosted the president of Ecuador on a tour of Texaco's former operations, leading to a pledge by the government to relocate several contaminated communities. Their work entails significant risk, as well. Yanza, Fajardo, their families and a number of their colleagues have become targets of death threats, harassment and intimidation. In December 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States issued precautionary measures for Yanza and Fajardo in an effort to protect their lives. Fajardo's brother was killed just months after he joined the legal team; no investigation has taken place and no one has been arrested for the homicide. Fajardo has been forced to vary his daily routine, often sleeping in a different place each night.
"In this battle I have understood that working for a clean environment today is working towards peace for humanity tomorrow - facing the future. That is what I intend to do." - Pablo Fajardo
"I will continue fighting for rights and justice until the last days of my life." - Luis Yanza
Raising more than $90 million by bringing together private industry, regional governments, and local stakeholders, Ignace Schops led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park, protecting one of the largest open green spaces in the country.Read more »
Speech After years of campaigning, IgnaceSchops has led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park. Raising more than US$90 million by bringing together private industry, regional and European Union (EU) government, local stakeholders, and NGOs, Schops has created a new model for land conservation in the EU and beyond. After Coal, Conservation The province of Limburg in northeastern Belgium contains large woodlands, extensive pine groves, flowering meadows and many rare and unique animals. Since 1901, when coal was discovered in the region, the amount of open space has dwindled, making way for industrial and community infrastructure to support the population employed by the mines. For almost a century, the coal industry thrived in Limburg, but in 1990, the area’s seven mines closed, leaving 40,000 people unemployed. The region around the old mines, a highly industrial and densely populated area owned by the government, is adjacent to HogeKempen, an area within the province that has retained its natural beauty, despite nearby development. Following the closing of the mines, jobs were badly needed in the region and several corporations wanted to build factories in the HogeKempen. However, very few precious open spaces remained in the province and a conflict arose between conservation and development. In response to pressure from industry, the largest coal company and the largest NGO for nature conservation in Belgium, Natuurpunt, founded RegionaalLandschapKempen and Maasland (RLKM) in 1990. Their goal was to conserve the land in the province and continue to provide jobs and economic development. Through his engagement in nature conservation and his field study on herpetology (amphibians & reptiles), Schops began to see that nature conservation and biodiversity could be helped with a different, progressive approach based on enthusiasm and connectivity. In 1997, Schops and a group of friends began working with RLKM to campaign for permanent protection of a piece of the Limburg landscape through the creation of Belgium’s first national park. They believed that the park could provide jobs and revenue through eco-tourism, as well as conserve open space for the future. Since beginning his work in conservation in 1990, Schops had built a network of politicians, including mayors, parliament members and ministers who were willing to work with him. For six years, RLKM, Schops and his friends lobbied the government and funded the national park campaign. Under Schops’ leadership, over the next four years, more than US$90 million was raised from sources such as the Flemish government, the European Rural and Regional Development Fund, municipal and provincial development funds, the European Union, local stakeholders and the private sector. Many of the funds he secured were new funding sources for nature conservation and sustainable development which had not yet been utilized. In 2002, the minister of environment agreed to protect the area if a master plan was created and funding was secured. In 2004, Schops became director of RLKM and has spearheaded the final steps to securing the park’s future. Belgium’s First National Park In early 2006, the HogeKempen National Park was officially opened by the European Commissioner for Environment. It has become a source of inspiration for environmental protection in Belgium. More than six million people live within one hour’s drive of the park, and since its opening four hundred thousand people have visited. The projected economic revenue generated by the national park after operating for five years is US$48 million per year. The park has created 400 jobs for the local community and has conserved nature and brought economic revenue to the region. Five gateways to the park have been established. Car parks, camp sites and information kiosks are being built, and walking and bike trails have been developed. Souvenir stores and a cafeteria have been completed as well as shops to rent and purchase hiking and bicycling equipment. Additional attractions are planned over the next three years for increasing revenue, while still maintaining free entrance to the park. The first and only national park in Belgium, it contains nearly 6,000 hectares and stretches across six municipalities. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) plans to use Schops’s model of creating and funding the national park as an example for other member countries, not only in Europe but around the world. His model demonstrates how a successful public-private partnership in the use and management of nature can be an asset for local and regional development. Schops, as the director of RLKM, will oversee the management of the park and its continued development, and other conservation projects in Belgium.
“Let’s do at least what we expect from others. If densely populated, well developed and prosperous regions don’t take responsibility for biodiversity and nature conservation, why should undeveloped regions be held to different standards? It’s up to us. Let’s give a sign to our precious world!”
As Russia expanded its petroleum and nuclear interest, Marina Rikhvanova worked to protect Siberia’s lake Baikal, one of the world’s most important bodies of fresh water, from environmental devastation brought on by these polluting industries.Read more »
Lake Baikal in Siberia is one of the most important bodies of fresh water in the world. However, Russia’s increasingly authoritarian government and rapidly growing oil and nuclear economy threaten the health of this cherished natural resource. Lake Baikal native Marina Rikhvanova, a long-time figure in Russia’s environmental movement, leads efforts to protect the region from potential environmental disaster brought on by industry. After successfully campaigning to reroute a destructive petroleum pipeline from the lake’s watershed, Rikhvanova is now working to prevent the construction of a uranium enrichment facility in the region. Success in Spite of Tightening on Civil Society Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake, is known as the “Galapagos of Russia.” It holds 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserve. Its age and isolation have created one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections of freshwater flora and fauna, including 1,700 endemic plant and animal species. Located in southeast Siberia, Lake Baikal provides a way of life for the local communities and is cherished by wilderness lovers from around the world. In 1996, it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2002, the Russian government announced plans to build the longest petroleum pipeline in the world, extending 2,566 miles from eastern Siberia to an oil terminal on Russia’s Pacific coast through Lake Baikal basin. In 2005 Transneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, decide to build the pipeline within a half-mile of Lake Baikal, despite concerns about possible oil spills and leakage. Rikhvanova, co-chair and co-founder of Baikal Environmental Wave (the Wave) immediately opposed the plan, and embarked on a four-year struggle to protect the lake. Working within Russia’s increasingly repressive climate, she successfully led a national campaign that included rallying thousands in protest. Volunteers of the Wave and Baikal movement also obtained over 20,000 signatures and partnered with international organizations during the campaign. Due to these efforts, in April 2006, President Vladimir Putin ordered the pipeline to be rerouted away from the lake’s watershed. This marked a tremendous success for civil society and the environmental movement in Russia. Nuclear Threats to the Lake Despite the civic outcry to protect the region, threats continue to plague Lake Baikal. In late 2006, the Russian government announced plans to construct the International Uranium Enrichment Center near Angarsk on the grounds of an existing nuclear facility located just 50 miles from Lake Baikal. The purpose of the center is to enrich uranium transported from other countries and then return it to them for reuse. Once the uranium is enriched, only 10 percent of the radioactive material will be returned to the customer, leaving 90 percent behind for storage. Russia is the only country in the world willing to take radioactive materials from other countries for processing, long-term storage, and burial. Countries that do not currently have nuclear infrastructure are willing to pay a premium to Russia to do this dangerous work. This budding industry poses significant environmental and health risks. Uranium tailings, leftover waste in the form of sand after enrichment, consist of extremely harmful radioactive and toxic uranium hexafluoride. These tailings are preserved outside in sealed containers. Should these containers be compromised as a result of a fire or otherwise, uranium hexafluoride would leak into the air and form fluoric acid. If the radioactive sand is left on the ground and allowed to dry, wind can deposit it on vegetation, allowing radioactive materials to enter the food chain. It can also wash into rivers and lakes, contaminating them. Rikhvanova and the Wave now lead the effort to stop construction of this uranium enrichment center. They are demanding that the required independent environmental impact assessment and review be carried out. In early 2007, she traveled to Moscow to protest the building of 40 new nuclear power plants across Russia and in the spring of 2007, she organized several protests in Irkutsk, the latest on April 14 which was attended by more than 1,000 people. Rikhvanova has also met with officials from the Russian Atomic Energy Agency who agreed that if the local population was against the center, it would not be built. Despite the promise, plans for its construction continue. In late July, Rikhvanova hosted a No-Nukes Camp in Angarsk, one of many citizen training camps held during the summer in the region. Camp participants attended trainings about how radioactive waste is imported into Russia, the danger of transporting nuclear materials and the lack of information available to the public about plans for further nuclear development, with a focus on what civil society groups can do to help stop the project. Personal Challenges A recent challenge to Rikhvanova’s work is the controversy around her son, Pavel, and his alleged involvement in a murder that occurred at a protest camp run by radical political groups held in the summer of 2007. This camp was attacked by nationalist thugs (according to the government report), resulting in injuries and one death. Rikhvanova’s son, Pavel, was in the area when the murder happened, though he has denied involvement in the violence. Following his arrest, authorities seized Rikhvanova’s home computer. The local newsmedia reported on the arrest story, attempting to connect Pavel’s alleged role in the attacks to Rikhvanova’s efforts to protect Lake Baikal. Rikhvanova must now struggle both to clear her own name and support her son while he continues to be held without charge in police custody.
"Only we can save Baikal. Only by uniting together and overcoming our differences can we save Baikal and our environment for our children and grandchildren."
In the shadow of polluting factories in Cataño, Rosa Hilda Ramos led the movement to permanently protect the Las Cucharillas Marsh, one of the last open spaces in the area and one of the largest wetlands ecosystems in the region.Read more »
In the shadow of polluting factories surrounding San Juan’s low income community of Cataño, the wetlands and mangroves of Las Cucharillas Marsh provide important habitats for aquatic and migratory birds as well as flood protection and much needed open space for nearby residents. After leading a movement to hold nearby polluting industry accountable for Cataño’s high incidence of respiratory disease, Rosa Hilda Ramos successfully convinced the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to direct millions of dollars in pollution fines to establish long term protection of the Las Cucharillas Marsh. Environmental Justice Leads to Conservation In the 1990s, Cataño, a community of 35,000 within greater San Juan and adjacent to Las Cucharillas Marsh, was found to have the highest rate of respiratory diseases and cancer incidence in Puerto Rico. Air pollution from nearby oil-powered electric power plants, run by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), was primarily responsible. The EPA knew about the high levels of pollution in the Cataño area and had notified the Puerto Rican government that it was unsafe for residents; however, as of 1991, neither entity had taken action to address the problem. When Ramos’s mother died of cancer causes in 1990, Ramos decided to donate the medical equipment used by her mother to people in need , after learning that in some of the less privileged communities of the town some people had to share respiratory machines. Realizing that many neighbors were suffering from the same respiratory and cancer problems, Ramos and other community leaders founded Communities United Against Contamination (CUCCo) in 1991 to seek justice. That year, Ramos and CUCCo brought their complaints directly to the Puerto Rican Department of Health and the State environmental Quality Board, demanding action from the EPA. In response to Ramos and CUCCo’s persistence, the EPA held a public hearing to address the matter. As a result, PREPA was found in violation of the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts by the EPA, and was also fined US$10,000 by the Puerto Rican Environmental Quality Board. While the decision was an initial victory for CUCCo and the Cataño community, by 1993, the plants had failed to reduce their toxic emissions. Ramos and CUCCo sued PREPA pro se in federal court. Ultimately PREPA was found responsible for the respiratory and related health ailments of Cataño’s residents, and was fined US$7 million. The case represented the first time that citizens in Puerto Rico sat down to negotiate directly with the EPA and regulators, a landmark environmental justice success for the island. The court ordered PREPA to pay the US$7 million directly to the federal government. Ramos and CUCCo had a different idea about where the funds should go. They recommended to the EPA that it use the multi-million dollar fine to purchase Las Cucharillas marshland from the collection of private entities that owned the land in order to permanently protect it. Community Victory for Conservation The 1200-acre Las Cucharillas Marsh bordering Cataño is part of Puerto Rico’s San Juan Bay Estuary, the only tropical estuary in the US National Estuary Program, and provides habitat for the largest diversity of aquatic birds in the region. The marsh also serves as a respite from the surrounding complex of warehouses, highways, electrical plants and multiple manufacturing facilities. Its mangroves and wetlands are an important buffer zone protecting Cataño communities from frequent threats of flooding, which have increased with the intensity of tropical storms in recent years. Despite its long-term ecological and community significance, the marsh was not officially deemed a protected area. Cataño rallied behind Ramos’ proposal to direct the fines to protect Las Cucharillas. In 1999, Ramos and CUCCo succeeded in convincing the EPA to redirect US$3.4 million of the original $7 million PREPA fine toward the purchase and protection of Las Cucharillas Marsh. The funds were not sufficient to purchase Las Cucharillas’s entire 1,200 acres of marshland, so in 2001, Ramos and CUCCo brought together a diverse constituency to develop strategies for additional land acquisition and conservation. The coalition worked against the clock to prevent warehouse construction within large sections of privately-owned Las Cucharillas marshland. In late 2004, the Bacardi Corporation, which operates a factory in Cataño, transferred 10 acres of land worth approximately US$1 million to the Las Cucharillas Marsh reserve. Encouraged by Ramos’s talks with the company, the transfer was part of a settlement reached by Bacardi and the EPA over the company’s Clean Water Act violations at its factory. In April 2007, with a similar agreement, the EPA announced that Wal-Mart would provide nearly US$100,000 for the preservation of land in the Las Cucharillas Marsh watershed. By 2007, Ramos and CUCCo’s efforts had resulted in the acquisition and permanent protection of 300 acres of Las Cucharillas marshland. As a result of Ramos’s sustained advocacy, in August 2004, the Governor of Puerto Rico issued an executive order to designate Las Cucharillas Marsh a protected area. Governor Calderón then sent the process to the Puerto Rico Planning Board, where it went through various stages of review. The board has scheduled public hearings on the issue, which will mark the final step in the process to establish Las Cucharillas Nature Reserve.
“Wetlands are mysteriously designed to embrace our rivers’ raging waters before they flow into the sea, filtering them and making their path more calm and safe for humans and animals. Wetlands are one of the finest examples of God’s creation; a gift to us for a rich and safe life. No human design can substitute the pacifying effect wetlands have over a flooding river. We are blessed to have CienagaCucharillas wetlands. It is a blessing we are not willing to lose.”
In Oaxaca, where unsustainable land-use practices have made it one of the world’s most highly-eroded areas, Jesús León Santos led a land renewal program that employs ancient indigenous practices to transform depleted soil into arable land.Read more »
In the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, Mexico, JesúsLeón Santos leads an unprecedented land renewal and economic development program that employs ancient indigenous agricultural practices to transform this barren, highly eroded area into rich, arable land. With his organization, the Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM), a democratic, farmer-led local environmental organization, León has united the area’s small farmers. Together, they have planted more than one million native-variety trees, built hundreds of miles of ditches to retain water and prevent soil from eroding, and adapted traditional Mixteca indigenous practices to restore the regional ecosystem. Efforts are paying off as barren hillsides turn green again, aquifers are recharged, and the high rate of migration slows as indigenous farming families find they are able to make a living at home. Climate Change, Industrial Farming, and Migration Studies indicate that climate change trends such as erosion, flooding, desertification and changing weather patterns will gravely affect small farmers and consequently food supply worldwide. In the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, this is grimly apparent. According to a UN study, the region has one of the highest rates of soil erosion in the world, affecting 83 percent of the land, with 500,000 hectares considered severely eroded. After adopting chemical-intensive varieties of corn seed in the 1980s, many small farmers in the Mixteca region found that yields were dropping and the soil was becoming depleted. As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and US corn subsidies, maize prices dropped and many farmers could no longer afford the price of fertilizers and pesticides that the new varieties required. As the soil declined in productivity, small-scale agriculture became increasingly difficult. Erosion, coupled with declining prices for the staple corn crop, forced thousands of Mixtecans to leave the region. Solutions In the early 1980s, León, a Mixtec indigenous small farmer and cofounder of CEDICAM, began helping people organize to reforest the area to quell erosion. As more and more farmers requested trees to plant on their properties, CEDICAM’s first nursery expanded into a system of several community-run nurseries. More than twenty years of grassroots work has led to significant benefits for the region. With help from León and CEDICAM, people are now planting up to 200,000 native trees a year. The trees prevent erosion, aid water filtration into the ground, provide carbon capture and green areas, contribute organic material to the soil and provide more sustainable, cleaner burning wood to residents who cook on open fires. CEDICAM is teaching communities sustainable use of firewood and the use of wood-saving stoves. This alleviates the workload of women who, in the past, had to travel farther to collect wood. León is working with communities to retrieve pre-Hispanic traditions of using barriers to prevent hillside erosion. He has helped identify ancient terraced agricultural systems in the region, many in ruins, and helped communities rebuild the barriers using stones from the fields. The resulting flattened areas impede erosion and enhance agricultural production. León has pioneered the construction of contour ditches, retention walls and terraces to capture rainfall and prevent erosion on hillsides. Five kilometers of contour ditches have been shown to capture 1,800,000 liters of water after each heavy rain, recharging the aquifers below. An estimated 80 percent of rainfall previously flowed off the land without filtering, thus causing erosion and preventing the refilling of aquifers. León and CEDICAM have worked with farmers throughout the region to build hundreds of kilometers of contour ditches. Sustainable Agriculture In order to promote sustainable agricultural practices, León began a program helping farmers convert to natural compost fertilizers and to use native seed varieties. Today most farmers in the region use native seed. As a result of the public education and seed-saving efforts, the region is becoming a GMO-free zone. León also started a program to promote local foods and traditional indigenous diet, in opposition to the influx of processed foods accelerated by free trade and changes in the culture due to immigration. Many small farmers believed that using chemicals was the modern way and by returning to traditional practices they would be seen as ignorant. León taught people to appreciate the role of the small farmer, building prestige and pride into the recuperation of traditional indigenous and small farming methods. He began applying sustainable methods among a small group of farmers and as neighbors saw concrete results, they too converted to sustainable farming. León and CEDICAM are now working with more than 1,500 small farmers in 12 communities. They have planted more than one million trees and reforested more than 1,000 hectares. Their sustainable agriculture programs have led to the conservation of some 2,000 hectares. Further, they have protected 5,000 hectares with stone terraces and walls, leading to a 50 percent increase in agricultural production and increased topsoil and water retention, resulting in ecological, social and economic benefits. Where recently only 25 to 30 percent of the land was arable, communities now farm upwards of 80 percent of the land. The contour ditches that prevent run-off of rain water have led to a 50 to 100 percent increase in spring levels. Farmers throughout the area have converted from industrial fertilizers and pesticides to natural compost fertilizers and native seed varieties, and are returning to local foods and a traditional indigenous diet. For a semi-arid zone like the Mixteca, all of these changes have immensely improved lives throughout the region’s communities, leading to less out-migration. León’s success has led to interest from other regions and countries. He has shared his experience in water conservation, anti-erosion techniques and sustainable agriculture at forums throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and at various universities and events in the US.
“It is time we recognize that traditional agricultural methods can make strong contributions to biodiversity conservation. We should encourage it and value it as a way to produce healthy foods that conserve and care for the environment.”
Using music to spread the message of ecological sanitation to the most remote corners of Mozambique, Feliciano dos Santos is empowering villagers to participate in sustainable development and rise up from poverty. In Niassa province, many villages lack even basic sanitation infrastructure. Without reliable access to clean water and waste management systems, the population is highly susceptible to disease. Santos, who grew up in the region, today heads an innovative program that is bringing new hope to Niassa. With his internationally-recognized band, Massukos, Santos uses music to promote the importance of water and sanitation in Mozambique. His program is now serving as a model for other sustainable development programs around the world. Sanitation and Poverty Throughout much of Africa, the lack of proper sanitation poses significant challenges to development. When drinking water is compromised, disease often follows. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all sickness in the world is attributable to unsafe water and sanitation. More children under five die from water-borne illnesses than AIDS. Recognizing both the environmental and societal risks associated with poor sanitation, the United Nations has declared 2008 the “Year of Sanitation” in order to bring further attention to the issue worldwide. In Mozambique, more than half the population lives in extreme poverty without access to basic sanitation. The northernmost province of Niassa is one of the poorest and most isolated regions of the country. Most of its nearly one million inhabitants live in small villages dispersed throughout the province, which is as large as New England, yet has only 170 kilometers of paved road. Waste Fuels Sustainable Development Sanitation continues to be a taboo subject throughout the world, though it remains one of the most pressing problems in poverty-stricken regions. Santos has successfully found ways to discuss human waste management techniques with villagers through both grassroots outreach and music. He grew up in Niassa with no clean water or proper sanitation and is disabled from polio. As an adult, he has focused on improving living conditions in the region. Santos understands that environmental and health problems are interrelated in regions dealing with poverty issues like Niassa. As the director of Estamos, he works directly with villagers to provide community sanitation, promote sustainable agriculture, lead reforestation projects and support innovative HIV/AIDS initiatives. Santos believes that sanitation and water supply issues must be solved in order for other development projects to take root. Santos and Estamos promote low cost, environmentally sustainable “ecological sanitation,” a process that uses composting toilets, called EcoSans, to transform human waste into nutrient-rich agricultural fertilizer. Typically, a family will use an EcoSan for a number of months, adding soil and ash after each use. The pit is then buried and left for eight months, and the family moves on to another pit. During the eight months all the harmful pathogens die off, leaving a rich fertilizer that can be dug up and used in the fields. The compost not only provides natural fertilizer, but also enhances the soil’s water-retention capacity. Families using ecological sanitation report markedly fewer diseases, a 100 percent improvement in crop production, and improved soil retention. Before ecological sanitation, many villages used costly artificial fertilizers on their crops, and often were barely able to feed their families. By using the compost instead of artificial fertilizer, many are able to produce more food than they need and can generate a small income by selling some of their harvest. Santos and Estamos believe that no sanitation system or behavior change should be imposed on villagers by an external NGO. As an insider, Santos and his team lead participatory workshops in which villagers come to understand their sanitation options, and, if they like, choose the option they prefer and build it themselves. Since Santos and Estamos began their work in Niassa in 2000, they have helped thousands of people in hundreds of villages gain access to clean water and ecological sanitation. This is a considerable achievement considering the lack of infrastructure in Niassa’s remote villages. Estamos continues to grow and is now working in three districts in northern Mozambique. In one remote area, a local chief working with Estamos is leading a group of 70 villages to achieve 100 percent sanitation coverage. This achievement would be the first of this magnitude in Mozambique. Empowerment through Music Santos’s band, Massukos, incorporates the sanitation message into music, performing in villages across Niassa and at times around Mozambique and abroad. Since Santos began his music-based outreach, people throughout Niassa and Mozambique have begun to focus more on the country’s rural sanitation problems. By connecting with Mozambique’s rich performance traditions, Santos and Estamos connect to villagers in a culturally appropriate way through music and theater. When Santos and the band arrive in a Niassa village, the entire local population often appears to hear them and their message. But the music is not the only reason for Estamos’s success. In July 2007, Massukos traveled to the UK where they released their album “Bumping” and performed at the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival.
“By loving the natural environment as we would a child, the environment will love and serve our children, producing food and clean water for future generations.”