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Maathai's Prize Links Environment to Peace
Emily Gertz, 9 Dec 04

Kenyan environmentalist-activist Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, as announced in October.

Her arrival in Oslo has touched off press coverage on the links between environmental conditions, human rights and peace, featured in this Reuters story recounting a debate between critics and supporters of awarding the Peace Prize to an environmentalist.

While Ole Jacob Sending, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, apparently felt that "much research shows that deforestation and other environmental degradation has never been more than a small factor in spurring conflicts," Brookings Institute scholar David Sandalow drew the connections:

[Sandalow] said conflict in the troubled Darfur region in Sudan was linked to drought and poor land management that spread deserts.

And a communist insurgency in the Philippines had underlying causes of poverty caused by land-grabbing and logging. He said that the Nobel Committee had been wise in saying that "peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment."

And he noted that the environment was sometimes a first area of cooperation to help states overcome mistrust.

"It's no accident that in the 1970s, as doors between China and the United States opened for the first time in decades, the Chinese government sent a panda to the United States as a symbol of rapprochement," he said.

There will be a live webcast of Friday's ceremony in Stockholm, and a video and text archive of Maathai's address. Maathai will be on a speaking tour in the New York area later this month.

(Thanks, Rebecca)

Update: Wangari Maathai's own words on the links between human rights, democracy and the environment, excerpted from today's (Dec. 10) New York Times:

...many local and international wars, like those in West and Central Africa and the Middle East, continue to be fought over resources. In the process, human rights, democracy and democratic space are denied.

I believe the Nobel Committee recognized the links between the environment, democracy and peace and sought to bring them to worldwide attention with the Peace Prize that I am accepting today. The committee, I believe, is seeking to encourage community efforts to restore the earth at a time when we face the ecological crises of deforestation, desertification, water scarcity and a lack of biological diversity.

Unless we properly manage resources like forests, water, land, minerals and oil, we will not win the fight against poverty. And there will not be peace. Old conflicts will rage on and new resource wars will erupt unless we change the path we are on.

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