Awards highlight grassroots fight against desertification

Two grassroots groups - a collective of nomads fighting desertification in Mauritania and a Colombian initiative that promotes sustainable water use in the Andes - were the winners of this year's United Nations Environment Programme Sasakawa prize.

By awarding the 2006 Sasakawa prize to grassroots initiatives UNEP hopes to highlight the crucial role of individual action in the fight against desertification.

The work of one of the winners, Rodrigo Vivas Rosas of Colombia, has encourages rainwater harvesting and other sustainable water use practices in the increasingly dry Andean region, where water shortages are aggravated by the melting of tropical glaciers and lead to soil degradation.

The other winner is a cooperative in Mauritania, where persistent drought since 1973 has killed off 90% of livestock and devastated communities of nomads living there for centuries. The Tenadi cooperative led by Sidi El Moctar Ould Waled has tackled the problem of drinking water by drilling boreholes and re-foresting the area as well as constructing windbreaks and planting palm trees to shelter crops from the sun.

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “This is an award for the literally hundreds of thousands of grassroots initiatives trying to conserve the health and the fertility of the land in some of the harshest environments on the globe.

“In honoring Mr. Vivas Rosas and the Tenadi Cooperative we also honor these countless unsung individuals and groups whose commitment, creativity, tenacity and steadfastness are a lesson to us all.”

“Desertification and land degradation is a huge problem with wide-ranging consequences, from loss of productive land, increased emissions of greenhouse gases from degraded soils up to the siltation of rivers and hydroelectric dams,” he said.

Sidi El Moctar Ould Waled of the Tenadi cooperative said: “This Prize honors the Tenadi Cooperative and its members and the people of Mauritania.

“It also confirms that the efforts undertaken by the Cooperative to address the challenges of desertification have borne fruit. Our initiatives serve as an example to many other communities who are fighting desertification in Mauritania and throughout West Africa.”

Mr. Vivas Rosas said: “I always thought we could replicate successful sustainable development initiatives in Colombia. Thanks to the support of international organizations, this has become possible. It is now feasible to promote a culture of harvesting and using rainwater in Colombia.”

Goska Romanowicz

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