April 10, 2014
In 2009, Yuyun Ismawati was awarded the Goldman Prize for her work to implement sustainable community-based waste and sanitation management programs that provide employment opportunities to low-income people and empower them to improve the environment.
In the Q&A below, Ismawati updates us about her work in the years since winning the Prize.
Tell us about the campaign you’ve been working on since winning the Prize in 2009?
In the last 5 years, most of our urban sanitation program was adopted nationwide and expanded to various programs by many stakeholders in systematic way. Since then, I have been focusing my work on artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and mercury related issues. This issue, ASGM and mercury, has become one of the critical issue in the mercury treaty negotiations.
I have been involved in the mercury treaty negotiation process for the last six years, since its preparatory meetings began in 2008, to when the treaty was signed a couple of weeks ago in Kumamoto, Japan. In the new mercury treaty, almost all mercury in products and processes will be phased out by 2020. However, the mercury used in ASGM has no sunset date and will likely become the dumping ground of mercury from other sectors.
Together with my team and my global network, IPEN (International POPs Elimination Network), where I have been assigned as the IPEN lead for ASGM and Mining issues, I am promoting the elimination of mercury use in ASGM sectors. ASGM has been identified in more than 70 countries and involving more than 20 million people in impoverished communities, one-third of them are women and children. Already many people have elevated levels of mercury in the blood, hair, urine, breast milk, and in the food chain. In some countries, we have seen many symptoms similar to Minamata disease, which is already detected in ASGM sites.
As mercury is regarded as the key to all problems and suffering in ASGM communities, I am also working to ban the export-import of mercury to ASGM sector in any country. Although the mercury treaty allowed countries to trade and use mercury in ASGM, stopping the mercury flow to the market and to the ASGM sites is the key to prevent the future Minamata tragedies from happening in more than 70 countries.
How has winning the Goldman Prize affected you personally?
The Goldman Prize affected the way I act and gave a boost my confidence, allowing me to continue my campaign and to say something louder and stronger. The Prize also reminded me about the consequence of every word or action I make in a positive way.
How has winning the Goldman Prize affected your leadership?
The Prize enforced my leadership especially at the global forum/network level. It gave me more credibility and legitimacy in getting people’s support and/or attention. However, my government continued to undermine my actions and words although they knew that everything I said was and is true… This may give them more shame and work to do.
How has the Goldman Prize impacted your environmental achievements or campaigns?
The Prize made it easier for me to get support and allies to leverage the campaigns and programs that I championed. When I introduced myself as the Goldman Environmental Prize awardee, people accepted me immediately and join the campaign or calls that I initiated. As a reflection, I always made careful preparation of any campaign, statements or speech that I made.