Kenyan wins prize for project to save Lake Victoria

A Kenyan has won a prestigious environmental prize for his project to protect the world’s second largest freshwater lake and the people that live around it.

George Odera Outa, from the University of Nairobi, won US$25,000 towards his scheme to increase the understanding within the local communities of the environmental hazards facing Lake Victoria by using popular theatre techniques.

Although in recent years the lake has been subject to a substantial invasion by the water hyacinth, it now faces the more pressing problems resulting from the negligent use of the lake by local communities, in particular through the current practices of human and industrial waste disposal, which is being blamed for high incidences of cholera and typhoid. The techniques of using song, dance and drama in order to explain the environmental situation are designed to aid community participation and a sense of ownership, and to empower the local people with knowledge and plans for their own, and the lake’s, safe future. Such techniques have been used elsewhere in Africa and other continents as a means of mobilising and educating communities about new projects in order to avoid the usual risks of acrimony, rejection or even outright failure.

“This is an imaginative proposal that recognises that when it comes to environmental management and sustainability we have a great deal to learn from the past,” said Sir Crispin Tickell, Chairman of the prize’s trustees, and Convenor of the UK Government’s Panel on Sustainable Development.

“Winning this prize will undoubtedly help us in our efforts to research and disseminate time-tested wisdoms,” said Outa. “We want to bring about more benign and sustainable attitudes towards the environment as a whole – and that includes the whole question of HIV and AIDS.”

The prize’s runners-up, who each received US$5,000, are Kapil Mohan, a civil servant from India, for a ‘tiles from waste’ project in the south of the country, and Juliet Jenkins, an environmental designer from West Sussex, UK, for a ‘working wetlands’ project.

The prize’s trustees include Dr Alun Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of The New Scientist magazine, James Currie, Director General of the Environment Directorate at the European Commission, and Julia Marton-Lefevre, Executive Director of Leadership for Environment and Development International. The prize is co-sponsored by St Andrews University and international energy company Conoco.

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