Inspiring Founder of Nature Iraq Wins Goldman Prize

by Rona Fried 

I am so happy to hear that Azzam Alwash is one of the six recipients of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize.

If you missed the PBS program on his work to transform Iraq’s wetlands back to their original biodiversity, I encourage you to see the inspiring story on "Nature."

Incredibly, war-torn Iraq is home to one of the world’s biggest, most biodiverse wetlands, spreading over 5500 square kilometers, but Saddam Hussein literally destroyed them, turning it into a dustbowl. You won’t believe Hussein’s determination – to drain the wetlands, he built some 40 miles of canals and re-routed rivers so that not a drop of water would reach them. 

Alwash, an engineer, gave up his comfortable life in California to restore the wetlands and has since formed Nature Iraq to support the immense, complex project.

Iraq Nature

Here’s a Bloomberg write-up on Alwash.

Here are the other winners, all chosen for their local victories, giving hope to environmentalists around the world who face  seemingly insurmountable odds. 

Kimberly Wasserman, US: led local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants – and is now transforming Chicago’s old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.

Jonathan Deal, South Africa: led a successful campaign against natural gas fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region treasured for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife.

Rossano Ercolini, Italy: this elementary school teacher began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town that grew into a national Zero Waste movement.

Aleta Baun, Indonesia: organized hundreds of local villagers to peacefully occupy marble mining sites in "weaving protests," stopping the destruction of sacred forestland.

Nohra Padilla, Colombia: Unfazed by powerful political opponents and a pervasive culture of violence, she organized waste pickers to make recycling a legitimate part of waste management.

You can watch brief videos of each person’s work here.

This is the 24th year of the Goldman Prize, which honors grassroots environmentalists on every continent. Each winner receives $150,000 to help them continue their work.

Here are the 2011 Goldman winners and those from 2010.

Here is the episode of Nature, Braving Iraq:

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