A biologist by training, Rudi Putra is dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, protecting the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.
Indonesia’s rainforests are among the most biodiverse on the planet, housing 12 percent of the world’s known mammal species. Only half of the original forests remain standing today, due to an astonishingly high rate of deforestation—an estimated 2 million acres are lost every year. Read more »
A biologist by training, Rudi Putra is dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, protecting the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.
Indonesia’s rainforests are among the most biodiverse on the planet, housing 12 percent of the world’s known mammal species. Only half of the original forests remain standing today, due to an astonishingly high rate of deforestation—an estimated 2 million acres are lost every year.
A large culprit behind Indonesia’s rapid deforestation is the growing worldwide demand for palm oil. It is used as an additive in packaged foods such as cookies, cereal, potato chips, chocolate, margarine, baby formula, and canned soups, along with a variety of soaps and cosmetic products.
Almost 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, and despite a current moratorium on forest clearing in Indonesia signed by the president in 2011, much of the forest loss comes from illegal plantations that have forced their way into protected areas through bribes and rampant government corruption.
Motivation As a high school student growing up in the Aceh region, Rudi Putra showed an early interest in nature and animals. He studied conservation biology and fell in love with the Sumatran rhino, the smallest—and the most critically endangered—member of the rhinoceros family.
He became an expert researcher and tracker, leading rhino protection teams on field expeditions to track down poachers in the Leuser Ecosystem. This 6.4-million acre, federally protected forest spanning the Aceh and North Sumatra provinces is one of the few remaining homes for the Sumatran rhino.
Putra realized that in addition to anti-poaching efforts, his work could not be complete without addressing a much larger threat rapidly outpacing conservation: habitat destruction from illegal palm oil plantations.
Further studies pointed to the importance of the forest for the 4 million people living near the protected Leuser Ecosystem, who rely on the forestland for sustainable agriculture and water. The forests also provide much-needed protection from flooding, which has grown in frequency and severity in recent years. Putra began to see his work as not only protecting the rhinos and their habitat, but the people of the region as well.
Impact With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.
He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.
Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.
Putra is now part of a fight against a new threat to the rainforest: a proposal from the Aceh provincial government that would legally open up large tracts of forestland in the Leuser Ecosystem to palm oil development.
In 2013, Putra organized an online petition to apply international pressure on the Indonesian government to enforce its own conservation laws and reject the Aceh government’s proposal. The petition garnered 1.4 million signatures, and has been widely credited with catalyzing international conversations between government officials from Norway, the European Union, Indonesia and the Aceh province.
Anchoring the Indonesian western half of the island of Timor is Mutis Mountain, an area of rich biodiversity. Perhaps more importantly, it is home to the headwaters for all of West Timor’s major rivers, which supply drinking and irrigation water for much of the people on the island. Read more »
By organizing hundreds of local villagers to peacefully occupy marble mining sites in “weaving protests,” Aleta Baun stopped the destruction of sacred forestland on Mutis Mountain.
Anchoring the Indonesian western half of the island of Timor is Mutis Mountain, an area of rich biodiversity. Perhaps more importantly, it is home to the headwaters for all of West Timor’s major rivers, which supply drinking and irrigation water for much of the people on the island.
The indigenous Mollo people’s survival is inextricably linked to these natural resources, which are considered sacred. They gather food and medicine from the forest, grow crops in the fertile land and harvest from plants natural dye they need for their weaving loom—a traditional skill that has helped define the women in these villages for generations.
They also share a deep, spiritual connection to the environment—so deep that Timor people are named after soil, water, stone and trees, which are likened to their flesh, blood, bones and hair. For the indigenous peoples on the island, the destruction of the environment would mean losing a part of their identity.
In the 1980s, the district government issued permits to mining companies to cut marble stones from the mountains in Mollo territory. Local government officials did so illegally without consulting local villagers, whom they saw as obstacles to development programs. As deforestation and mining took hold, landslides became commonplace, polluting the waters and bringing great hardship to the villagers living downstream.
Motivation Aleta Baun, an indigenous Mollo, was born to a family of farmers. Having lost her mother at a young age, she was raised by other women and elders in the village who taught her to respect the environment as a source of their spiritual identity and livelihood.
As an individual whose life was shaped by the values of these elders, Baun naturally came into a leadership role in her community, sharing her traditional knowledge and eventually becoming known as “Mama Aleta.” When mining companies started clearing the forests and cutting out marble from the mountains, she understood their activities as a threat to the Mollo people’s rights to their territory—and their survival.
Impact This core belief that the villagers’ lives cannot be separated from nature became the key message that Mama Aleta brought to other communities around the mountain. It began as a small movement with three other women. The group traveled on foot from one remote village to another—a journey that would sometimes take more than 6 hours.
Mama Aleta’s work made her a target for the mining interests and local authorities, who put a price on her head. After surviving a particularly close assassination attempt, Mama Aleta went into hiding in the forest with her baby. Several other villagers were repeatedly arrested and badly beaten.
Despite the violent intimidation, Mama Aleta grew the movement to include hundreds of villagers. It culminated in a weaving occupation where 150 women spent a year sitting on the marble rocks at the mining site, quietly weaving their traditional cloth in protest. Because women were traditionally responsible for foraging food, dye and medicine from the mountains, it was important for them to lead the campaign. In a remarkable role reversal, while the women protested at the mine, the men provided domestic support at home, cooking, cleaning and caring for the children.
In the face of the villagers’ peaceful and sustained presence, marble mining became an increasingly untenable endeavor for the companies involved. Public awareness of the weaving occupation was growing, and Indonesian government officials took notice. By 2010, the mining companies, reacting to the pressure, halted mining at all four sites within the Mollo territories and abandoned their operations.
Mama Aleta is now working with communities across West Timor to map their traditional forests. The effort is a preemptive strategy to establish indigenous territorial rights and protect their land from future mining projects and threats from commercial agriculture and oil and gas development. She’s also leading the way to create economic opportunities for the villagers through sustainable farming and enterprises that generate income from weaving and other activities.
Submitted by edgariguez12 on Sun, 2012-03-25 19:56
Mindoro is a major island in the northwestern Philippines. Spanning 11,000 square kilometers in area, the island is home to several species of endangered plants and animals, as well as tribes of Mangyan people who have lived sustainably from the island’s natural resources for generations. Mindoro also houses large deposits of nickel, an in-demand metal used for manufacturing stainless steel, among other things. Read more »
A Catholic priest, Father Edwin Gariguez is leading a grassroots movement against a large-scale nickel mine to protect Mindoro Island’s biodiversity and its indigenous people.
Mindoro is a major island in the northwestern Philippines. Spanning 11,000 square kilometers in area, the island is home to several species of endangered plants and animals, as well as tribes of Mangyan people who have lived sustainably from the island’s natural resources for generations. Mindoro also houses large deposits of nickel, an in-demand metal used for manufacturing stainless steel, among other things.
In the late 1990s, Norwegian mining company Intex (then known as Mindex) proposed an open-pit nickel mine on Mindoro. The proposed mine area is near two key biodiversity areas and is within the watershed that feeds the island’s four major rivers, which provide drinking water to lowland communities and irrigation for Mindoro’s rice fields. The Intex mine would use a process known as acid leaching to access the nickel ore, producing several million tons of toxic waste, contaminating the island’s water resources and destroying the tropical forests. Mindoro’s Mangyan indigenous communities would also be heavily impacted by the mine, as the proposed mining area is within their ancestral land. During an exploration phase of the project, indigenous burial grounds were desecrated in violation of federal rights of indigenous peoples.
Despite broad public opposition to the mine and extensive federal laws in place to protect against mining in watersheds and indigenous areas, the permit was shepherded through—likely by a corruption-prone national government supporting mining as one of the most lucrative and growing industries in the country.
Edwin Gariguez, affectionately known as “Father Edu,” is a Catholic priest, and pastor of the Mangyan Mission Catholic Church on Mindoro Island. Originally from Quezon Province on the island of Luzon, Gariguez has lived and worked on Mindoro for decades. He serves as executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Philippine Catholic Church.
Motivated by his religious beliefs and a strong desire to uphold the will of the people to protect their environment, Father Edu co-founded the Alliance Against Mining (ALAMIN), a broad coalition of Mindoro residents, elected officials, civil society groups, church leaders and indigenous peoples who oppose mining on the island. He is not opposed to mining per se, but believes measures to safeguard the environment, protect indigenous communities’ rights and ensure a fair distribution of economic benefits should be required.
Uniting thousands of indigenous peoples, farmers and local and provincial political leaders, Gariguez and his ALAMIN coalition led Mindoro communities in numerous protests. Undeterred by threats of violence and verbal harassment from mining officials and the military—and reeling through the loss of a colleague at ALAMIN who was murdered because of his activism—Father Edu went on to broaden the grassroots movement beyond Mindoro.
In 2002, the local government responded to strong public opposition by passing an island-wide moratorium that required Intex to stop any activities related to large-scale mining. Intex ignored the local ordinance and continued business as usual. This egregious violation of the people’s rights led Father Edu to take his fight overseas, traveling to Europe to address Norwegian parliamentarians and Intex shareholders. In conjunction with a Norwegian NGO, Father Edu filed a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Due to the negative international attention Father Edu brought on the mining project, nervous Intex shareholders began asking detailed questions about the mine. At the same time, Father Edu put pressure on his own government to uphold its laws and maintain better oversight of the mine project. In 2009, he led an 11-day hunger strike until the federal Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) finally agreed to conduct an investigation into the mine’s environmental and social violations. DENR indefinitely revoked Intex’s permit, halting the mine. As a result, major funders, including Goldman Sachs, divested of their funding, leading Intex to make an unsuccessful attempt to sell the $2.4 billion project in 2010. Shortly after the botched sale, Intex’s CEO resigned due to “severe setbacks.”
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ president, who took office in June 2010, has stated that he will fight corruption and take a comprehensive look at mining. Father Edu has made it clear that he will sustain pressure on the government to follow through with its pledges.
PrigiArisandi initiated a local movement to stop industrial pollution from flowing into his city's river that provides drinking water to three million people.Read more »
PrigiArisandi initiated a local movement to stop industrial pollution from flowing into his city's river that provides drinking water to three million people.
Surabaya’s Industrial Pollution Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, is heavily industrialized, with manufacturing facilities and factories lining the banks of its main waterway, the 41-kilometer Surabaya River. Since 1980, industry has regularly released thousands of tons of toxic effluent into the river. Industrial development, a key driver in Indonesia’s expanding economy, has been left unchecked by a weak and often corrupt system governing the enforcement of environmental laws. Severe pollution has followed, and the river’s biodiversity has suffered dramatically, with algae blooms and species decline threatening the future of the river ecosystem.
Compounding these challenges is a population largely unaware of the degree of the river’s toxicity and its relationship to their health. Nearly 96 percent of the city’s drinking water comes from the Surabaya River yet recent studies reveal that the concentration of mercury in the river is 100 times the tolerable limit established by the World Health Organization. Tests show that mercury appears in the blood and breast milk of women living within the estuarine area of the Surabaya River and childhood cancer rates are highest among children living along the river, where untreated water is often used for washing and bathing.
Motivation PrigiArisandi grew up near the Surabaya River and remembers seeing it degrade when factories began operating in the region in the early 1980s. He spent much of his childhood exploring the river and went on to study biology and conservation. With a deep commitment to the communities living along the river, he founded Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (Ecoton) while still at university. The organization set out to protect the water resources and wetlands ecosystems of Indonesia.
Impact Since 2000, Arisandi has inspired thousands of people to become Surabaya’s advocates for river protection. He created the first experiential environmental education program in the region, educating the public through river tours that bring children and local residents closer to the river’s rich biodiversity and devastating pollution. Arisandi’s River Detection Program, now in more than 50 schools, teaches children how to monitor the river’s water quality and report their findings to the government. Ecoton has since developed a national school network for river protection that promotes student participation in water quality monitoring and is partnering with the East Java Provincial Education Agency to introduce environmental curricula in schools across the province.
In addition, Arisandi has personally conducted regular investigations of waste dumping by industry operating on the river. Sharing his findings with environmental regulators and the media, he has helped bring about unprecedented public reporting of the pollution activities and their impact on the health of the Surabaya River. Such increased public awareness has significantly enhanced Arisandi’s ability to effect change at the government and industry levels. While effective environmental laws exist in Indonesia, the East Java provincial government’s standard practice has been non-enforcement. Industry—when caught dumping industrial effluent into the Surabaya—has simply paid the modest fines without changing its practices.
In 2007, Arisandi and Ecoton sued East Java’s governor and the province’s environmental management agency for failing to control water pollution on the Surabaya River. In April 2008, the provincial court issued a precedent-setting environmental decision, ordering the governor to implement water-quality regulations targeted at industry operating along the Surabaya, establishing a maximum daily limit for toxic releases into the river as well as a monitoring system to ensure compliance. The lawsuit represents the first time in East Java that a governor has been taken to court to change government policy.
As regional press coverage of the Surabaya River’s industrial pollution continues to increase, Arisandi has entered into talks with several industrial facilities operating on the river. In turn, a Surabaya sugar factory recently invested US$220,000 in a wastewater treatment plant. The facility is now one of the most environmentally responsible factories operating on the Surabaya. Several other industrial facilities have followed suit, installing pollution controls of their own.
"Protecting our water quality is important work to do, but it is more important to guarantee that water resources will be available for the next generations, because we do not want to be called a greedy water robber generation by our grandchildren" - PrigiArisandi
HumbertoRíosLabrada, a scientist and biodiversity researcher, worked with farmers to increase crop diversity and develop low-input agricultural systems, encouraging Cuba’s shift from agricultural chemical dependence toward sustainability.
Agrarian Legacy Cuba’s history is inextricably linked with its fertile soil, abundant rainfall and crop-friendly climate. Indigenous peoples thrived on the natural food sources on the island before Spanish colonists established some of the New World’s most infamous plantations in the late 1700s. Cuban sugar fueled New World expansion. Spanish laborers and African slaves were brought to Cuba to work the fields, with the island devoted mainly to producing sugar that was sold primarily to the United States. Following Cuban independence, agriculture remained as the country’s key economic engine.
For more than thirty years, the Soviet Union served as Cuba’s key trading partner. Cuba, with its long agrarian history, developed a modern agricultural system with the help of chemical fertilizers and pesticides supplied by larger socialist countries. Like many countries during the later part of the 20th century, Cuba adopted a chemical-intensive, highly-mechanized mono-culture that initially produced high yields and reduced labor needs, allowing the country to be an important provider of sugar cane to its trading partners. At one point, Cuba was the highest per-capita consumer of agrochemicals in Latin America. While the system served the country’s economic needs for several decades, the chemical usage and single-crop dependence soon took its toll on much of Cuba’s farmland, which makes up about 30% of Cuba’s total land area. More than half of the farmland was devoted to sugar cultivation. On the remaining land, Cuban farmers had little choice about which crops or varieties they could plant, using only a small selection of seeds developed to produce high yields within a fertilizer and pesticide-intensive system. Thus, much of Cuba’s environment was inundated with agrochemicals, threatening biodiversity and, over time, reducing crop yields. With the fall of communism in Europe, Cuba lost its chief trading partners along with its purchasing power and access to fertilizers and pesticides. As a result, Cuba’s agricultural sector ground to a halt, and food shortages ensued.
To address this crisis, the government distributed large tracts of arable land to small farm cooperatives. By necessity, farmers began cultivating semi-organic harvests, using little to no pesticides or fertilizers. Farming cooperatives turned to crop rotation and beneficial insects to encourage healthy yields. As a result, some of these smaller farms saw their soils begin to regenerate.
Sustainable Future During this time, Ríos, a folk musician and then a doctoral student in agricultural sciences at the Higher Pedagogical Institute for Technical and Professional Education, stumbled upon this trend while doing research in the field. Traveling to farms that had not adopted the sugar cane monoculture model, Ríos witnessed farmers using pre-industrial practices including crop rotation and experimentation with seed diversity. He watched as individual farmers tested different seed varieties of particular crops, selecting seeds that would thrive naturally in a particular environment. In each of these different locations Ríos realized that small farmers were contributing to a larger, nascent revitalization of the island’s agriculture. Ríos saw that this method was based on sustainable, ecological practices led by farmers themselves. He recognized these emerging transformations as opportunities and possible solutions to Cuba’s agricultural and food crisis, and he committed to expand sustainable farming by forming partnerships with small farmers.
In the late 1990s, Ríos and his team of young scientists sought to catalyze this farmer-led experimentation, creating teams of researchers and professors across the island to establish agrobiodiversity learning centers with farmers to broaden sustainable agriculture and seed biodiversity efforts. He viewed this work as having strong potential to improve Cuba’s food security. Encouraging farmers to continue experimenting, Ríos helped to organize farmers to promote and enhance crop diversity with one another, sharing their knowledge and best practices, as well as their seeds. Ríos spearheaded “seed fairs” in several farming communities across the island—gatherings where mutual learning and sharing of seed and crop biodiversity could take place regularly.
While holding official teaching and research positions at the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences for more than 10 years, Ríos continued his work with farmers, slowly gaining the attention of the Cuban decision-makers and the international community. By 2007, Ríos noticed a significant shift. His core belief - that agricultural scientists must work with and learn from the farmers whose families have passed down traditional knowledge about crop cultivation - began to take root. Fellow researchers and senior officials at the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences began taking notice of the results of Ríos’ efforts. They observed that farmers were now planting hundreds of varieties of crops without using chemical pesticides. In communities that once harvested only a few crop varieties, farmers were now cultivating many varieties of beans, rice, maize and other crops. Not only did food production increase via this approach, but the organic methods used also contributed to the sustainability of the land. Today, more than 50,000 farmers participate in seed biodiversity initiatives and carryout the farming practices promoted by Ríos and the national network of universities and researchers supporting agrobiodiversity.
As coordinator of the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences’s Program for Local Agricultural Innovation (PIAL), Ríos now focuses his time on developing Cuba’s sustainable agriculture sector and has engaged in similar farmer-led biodiversity projects throughout Mexico. He often uses his music as a means to engage communities in biodiversity, performing songs that celebrate sustainable agriculture. Recently, the government has called on Cubans to increase their food production throughout the country as a means for economic revitalization. Ríos sees this as an opportunity to further expand his work.
"The Green Revolution model that was focused on monoculture, fertilizers and pesticides degraded the biodiversity and traditional knowledge of the Cuban people. Farmers are indispensable to the rescue of biological diversity and culture that this planet greatly needs." - HumbertoRíosLabrada
Submitted by yuismawati09 on Mon, 2009-03-16 15:13
As waste management problems mounted throughout the Indonesian archipelago, YuyunIsmawati implemented sustainable community-based waste and sanitation management programs that provide employment opportunities to low-income people and empower them to improve the environment.
As waste management problems mount throughout the Indonesian archipelago, YuyunIsmawati implements sustainable community-based waste and sanitation management programs that provide employment opportunities to low-income people and empower them to improve the environment.
Waste Management Challenges The lack of adequate, safe and sustainable waste management is one of the most critical environmental challenges facing the world’s developing countries; island nations in particular must grapple with growing consumption and finite space for waste disposal. Municipal infrastructure that is the norm in developed nations, including proper sanitary landfills and recycling facilities, remains largely absent in countries such as Indonesia. This has led to pervasive environmental problems and health risks, especially for communities living adjacent to open waste dumps and for poor urban settlements without organized waste management systems. The traditional Indonesian practice of using palm leaves and other plants for storing and serving food allowed for simple disposal and composting of “trash.” With the influx of plastics and other non-biodegradable products, Indonesia’s waste management problems have worsened. Government-run services collect only 30 to 40 percent of the country’s solid waste, mostly in higher income areas; poor communities are left with mounting waste problems that can have deadly consequences. In 2005, in Bandung, 140 people were killed when a 200-foot-high open garbage dump collapsed, triggering a landslide that crashed onto two villages. Many communities burn their trash, leading to increased air pollution as toxic chemicals are released into the air. Sanitation services are also lacking, as sewage and waste water from poor settlements remain untreated. Waste water from tofu makers and chicken slaughterhouses as well as trash from uncontrolled dumpsites enters rivers and waterways, polluting the collective water resources. These conditions exacerbate water-borne diseases such as dengue fever. Conventional centralized sewage solutions for larger cities have been built in some areas, but are still not designed to cater to the poor. As Indonesia’s population grows (currently at 245 million), the need for sustainable solutions to waste problems in this nation of islands is critical. Sustainable SolutionsYuyunIsmawati, 44, began her career as an environmental engineer working with consultant firms to design rural and city water supply systems. Seeing that her skills were not serving the poor communities most in need of safe waste management, Ismawati made a career change. Since 1996, together with her NGO networks, she has redirected her environmental engineering expertise to assist poor communities in designing safe and well-coordinated waste management initiatives, while prioritizing environmental health and economic benefits for local people. In June 2000, Ismawati founded her own NGO, Bali Fokus, to expand her community-based urban environmental management program into replicable initiatives for a larger area of Indonesia. In 2003, Ismawati and Bali Fokus, in cooperation with a local Rotary Club, initiated a solid waste management program with Temesi Village in Gianyar, Bali consisting of a waste management facility owned and operated by the village itself. Drawing on her experience with a tourism waste recovery facility in Jimbaran, Bali, Ismawati and the organizations recruited and trained local residents to operate the facility at the landfill site. Workers now separate waste into recyclables, compostable and residuals to transport to the dumpsite. Income from the sale of recyclable materials and compost benefits local farmers. The plant now employs 40 local residents and received carbon credits from the voluntary market to support the sustainability scheme of the project. Since 2004, Ismawati has developed the “decentralised solution initiative,” focusing on village households in a low-income urban area of Bali and other cities in Indonesia. Ismawati looked to housewives as her partners. The goal was to develop community programs that reduce the volume of waste taken to municipal dumpsites by minimizing household-level waste. The core team trained housewives in easy-to-learn daily practices, such as waste separation and composting, performed at home using simple household tools. The program now involves 500 households. Bali Fokus estimates that household waste in the participating villages has been reduced by 50 percent. Some women sell their compost at local markets, thus creating a sustainable, income-generating practice for their communities. Recyclables are often crafted into sellable items, creating yet another income stream for local people. Seeking to build upon the positive results of these programs, Ismawati was involved in the development of SANIMAS in 2001-2003. SANIMAS, meaning “sanitation by communities” in Bahasa, is centered on Ismawati’s creation of a series of replicable waste and sanitation management options for urban poor settlements. Depending on a locality’s needs, resources and community-driven priorities, Ismawati, Bali Fokus and three other NGO partners provide education and capacity-building on specific sustainable waste management and sanitation programs. Infrastructure is often supported by the local and central governments. Community contributions and participation, although small compared to government support, are essential for the programs’ long-term sustainability. As of 2008, SANIMAS is a nationwide initiative reaching hundreds of locales across Indonesia, adding at least 75 small and medium-sized cities to the program every year. Over the last year, Ismawati was involved with national agencies in crafting Indonesia’s first-ever bill on waste management and waste management strategy related to climate change issues. During this process, Ismawati succeeded in moving the bill away from environmentally damaging practices such as incineration. In 2008, Ismawati expanded her area of interest by establishing Indonesia’s Toxics-Free Network. She intends to connect with more Indonesian NGOs and communities to work against the spread of toxic subtances from burning wastes, pesticides, and heavy metals such as mercury. In 2009, Ismawati plans to expand Bali Fokus programs to more villages, towns and municipalities across the country.
“When public services fail to serve all populations equally, if people get more trust and empowerment, most of the problems can be solved closer to the source in a more sustainable way with less costs than the conventional and centralized approach.”
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.”
Submitted by orvigfússon07 on Fri, 2007-03-30 15:32
Orri Vigfússon brokered huge international fishing rights buyouts with governments and corporations in the North Atlantic, effectively stopping destructive commercial salmon fishing in the region.Read more »
Multi-National Challenge, Innovative Solution Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, the once-plentiful wild salmon populations in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic dwindled to dangerously low levels, affecting not only the sensitive ocean and river ecosystems of the region, but also the rural communities for whom salmon fishing is a long-held local tradition and source of income. In the early 1990s Orri Vigfússon started an innovative, multinational initiative to buy out the fishing rights of commercial salmon fishers whose over-fishing was causing the decline. He represents a new breed of environmental leader who utilizes business skills and negotiating to effectively protect precious natural resources. Through his work, Vigfússon has succeeded in preventing the seemingly inevitable decimation of wild North Atlantic salmon populations. An entrepreneur and life-long outdoorsman, Vigfússon first became aware of declining salmon stocks in the 1970s while fishing along the rivers of his native northern Iceland. Speaking with others who lived or fished along local rivers, he learned the extent of Iceland’s shrinking river salmon populations. In response, Vigfússon founded the Iceland-based North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). Five Million Salmon Saved Since 1989 the organization has raised US$35 million to buy the netting rights from commercial fishers across the North Atlantic, essentially paying commercial fishermen not to fish salmon in the North Atlantic. NASF has also brokered moratorium agreements with several national governments. These efforts have dramatically improved salmon fish stocks in numerous countries. According to NASF estimates, commercial open-sea fishing in the Atlantic has dropped by more than 75 percent in the last 15 years, and river anglers in several countries in areas where nets have been closed have reported substantial increases in salmon catches. NASF estimates that in excess of five million North Atlantic salmon have been saved to date. Local Support Leads to International Changes In order for the buyout system to be successful, Vigfússon had to succeed on a number of fronts. He has to raise millions of dollars to compensate the commercial fishermen for the loss of income they suffer in giving up salmon fishing. The agreements are designed to cover a fixed period of years but the hope is that by the time the agreements expire many of the fishermen will not wish to return to salmon fishing. A large percentage of NASF’s funds, therefore, is spent on assisting the fishers to find alternative employment. He also has to negotiate with individual governments in order to persuade them to provide matched funding and to change the policies and economic decisions that have previously influenced their fishing industry practices. To ensure the sustainability of these efforts, Vigfússon began promoting viable economic alternatives for salmon fishers including snow crab and lumpfish caviar harvesting. In the beginning, Vigfússon reached out to a variety of stakeholders across Iceland, Europe and North America to convince them of the need to address the over-fishing problem. He met with residents of river communities and local anglers, who were all experiencing declining numbers of river salmon. He began discussions with commercial salmon fishers, talking openly with them about the extent of the problem from both an environmental and economic point of view, including how their own livelihoods were being affected. After raising significant grassroots support, Vigfússon approached governments, introducing his idea of the buyout agreements. With a mind for business and a passion for his cause, Vigfússon has since brokered multi-million dollar buyouts or moratorium agreements with commercial salmon fishers in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Wales, England, Greenland, France and Norway. Recently, Vigfússon and NASF´s branches in the UK and Northern Ireland brokered agreements to buy out the remaining drift nets in partnership with the authorities. In November 2006, after years of campaigning and negotiating by NASF, Ireland finally announced that it would buy out all of the country’s salmon drift-netting licenses. As part of the buyout, the Irish government will establish a hardship fund of more than US$39 million to address the financial losses that Irish salmon fishers will face, as well as providing an additional US$7 million fund to help rural communities deal with the loss of income. This development represents one of the final steps in Vigfússon’s vision of securing a complete halt to salmon fishing at sea in the North Atlantic. Vigfússon is now focused on the remaining interceptory coastal nets in Scotland and Norway, the last countries to operate major mixed-stock fisheries that prevent many returning salmon from reaching their native rivers. The governments in both countries have been slow to act and are reluctant to work with civil society groups such as NASF. As a result, both countries face significant negative impacts to the salmon stocks on their local rivers.
“My objective is to restore the abundance of wild salmon that formerly existed on both sides of the North Atlantic. This can only be achieved by safeguarding the fish at sea. If the numbers of salmon and many other species of fish are to be rebuilt, we must also protect the whole marine food chain.”
Anne Kajir won a precedent-setting lawsuit on landholder rights against a global timber company that conducted large-scale, illegal logging in the largest remaining intact block of tropical forests in the region.
Attorney Anne Kajir uncovered evidence that widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government had allowed rampant, illegal logging, which was destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. Read more »
Indigenous Lawyer vs. International Logging Interests Attorney Anne Kajir, 32, uncovered evidence that widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government has allowed rampant, illegal logging, which is destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. In 1997, her first year of practice, Kajir successfully defended a precedent-setting appeal in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea, which forced the logging industry to pay damages to indigenous land owners. Today, Kajir is the chief executive officer of the Environmental Law Centre in Port Moresby and is the lead attorney in a Supreme Court case aimed at stopping foreign timber companies’ large-scale, illegal deforestation practices, often accompanied by threats of harm to local landholders who dare to challenge them. Timber historically is a corrupting force in the politics of Papua New Guinea, whose government has long-standing, lucrative relationships with timber interests. Although the country’s constitution guarantees the land rights of traditional communities living in the forest, the reality is far different. Kajir has found evidence of widespread government corruption that has allowed these companies to act as a law unto themselves, ignoring the terms of the government-issued timber permits, and terrorizing the local communities – at gunpoint in some cases – into signing over their land rights. Facing Great Personal Risks Kajir has faced considerable personal risks in her nine years of posing legal challenges. She has been physically attacked more than once, and robbers forced their way into her home to steal her computer, which had files on all her legal cases. She continues to fight, building on her early legal success in representing communities and landholder groups against the timber companies. A current case alleges that the PNG Forest Authority, the state, and the lead logging company, Rimbunan Hijau, repeatedly violated federal law by issuing and using illegal logging permits in the forests of PNG’s western Province. The case includes evidence of logging company representatives refusing to get informed consent and timber rights from landowners, and villagers’ personal accounts of extreme intimidation, including having to sign documents at gunpoint and physical abuse and humiliation. Industrial Logging Decimating Forests of Papua New Guinea Since the 1980s, industrial logging has severely depleted and damaged PNG’s tropical forests. Malaysian companies dominate the business, led by Rimbunan Hijau, a multinational timber conglomerate with logging operations in China, Brazil, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Forestry experts consider Rimbunan Hijau one of the most damaging and irresponsible global logging companies. Besides controlling 80 percent of logging in PNG, Rimbunan Hijau also owns one of the country’s two national newspapers. The current executive and legislative branches of the government fully support the logging industry, and particularly Rimbunan Hijau. The government’s support has weakened landholder rights. In 2005, a new forestry bill stripped language that had guaranteed consent of landowners as a requirement for timber permits; it also removed the “NGO seat” on the National Forest Board and replaced it with a seat for the timber industry. Many NGOs and legal experts in PNG believe that the revised bill violates protections and rights embedded in the country’s constitution. In fact, PNG is known for its pro-ecological constitution and sound environmental laws.
“Landowners depend entirely on their forests as a means of survival so they must be properly informed on the impacts of logging on their land before signing away their customary birth given rights to these natural resources. It will be genocide if the robber barons continue to roam at will or plunge deeper into our last remaining rainforests.”