Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Nairobi, Kenya - Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who began a movement to reforest her country by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees and who went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, died here on Sunday. She was 71 and the cause was cancer.  Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, played many roles - environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977.  Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.  Dr. Maathai was as comfortable in the gritty streets of Nairobi’s slums or the muddy hillsides of central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. She won the Peace Prize in 2004 for what the Nobel committee called “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” 

Wangari Maathai taught her countrywomen to plant trees.  Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 40 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.  In presenting her with the Peace Prize, the Nobel committee hailed her for taking “a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular” and for serving “as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights.”  
Former Vice President Al Gore, a fellow Peace Prize recipient for his environmental work, said in a statement, “Wangari overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service - service to her children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya - and to the world as a whole.”

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and environmental campaigner, Wangari Maathai, has died in Nairobi, Kenya, at the age of 71.   Maathai was the founder in 1977 of Kenya’s tree planting initiative – the Green Belt Movement, which has planted an estimated 45 million trees around Kenya.  Maathai mobilized communities to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction.  Her Movement aims to empower women and improve the quality of their lives through better access to clean water and firewood for cooking, while conserving the environment. 

Long before ecology became the refrain of the global song at Stockholm and Rio, the ancient Indic heritage had already provided a spacious spiritual home for the environmental ethos. In the West, the term ‘ecology’ was coined only in the latter half of the 19th century from the Greek word Oikos, meaning ‘home’. But India has, throughout trackless centuries, provided an ample expanse of friendly space for an open and ongoing discourse of ideas. The Jain, Vedic and Buddhist traditions established the principles of ecological harmony centuries ago - not because the world was perceived as heading for an imminent environmental disaster or destruction, nor because of any immediate utilitarian exigency, but through its quest for spiritual and physical symbiosis, synthesized in a system of ethical awareness and moral responsibility.

H. E. Dr Laxmi Mall Singhvi
Former President of the World Congress on Human Rights
“The East is green” - August 1996.

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