STOCKHOLM – Two activists from Congo and New Zealand and a doctor from Australia on Tuesday won the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “alternative Nobel,” for work to protect rain forests, improve women’s health and rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Congolese activist Rene Ngongo, Alyn Ware of New Zealand and Australian-born Catherine Hamlin, who has been based in Ethiopia for five decades, each will receive euro50,000 (US$74,000), the Right Livelihood Foundation said.
The honorary part of the award — without prize money — went to Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, 73, for raising awareness of climate change.
Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull founded the awards in 1980 to recognize work he felt was being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.
The foundation said Ngongo, 48, was honored “for his courage in confronting the forces that are destroying Congo’s rain forests.”
Ngongo founded the OCEAN environmental group in 1994, exposing the impact of deforestation and monitoring the plunder of minerals by warring factions during Congo’s 1996-2002 civil wars. He also has been working for Greenpeace in Congo.
Ngongo told The Associated Press by telephone from Kinshasa that the award came at a “great time,” as negotiators prepare to meet in Copenhagen in December to try to draft a global climate pact.
The Right Livelihood Award “is a clear message that the campaign we started in is starting to be heard around the world,” Ngongo said. “It’s important to save our forests.”
Ware, a peace activist from New Zealand, was recognized for “initiatives over two decades to further peace education and to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”
The citation said the 47-year-old Ware has campaigned against nuclear weapons at the U.N. and through a network of lawmakers worldwide that he established in 2002.
Nuclear nonproliferation also was a key theme when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to President Barack Obama, citing in part his vision of a world free of atomic weapons.
Asked to compare the awards, Ole von Uexkull, the Right Livelihood Foundation’s executive director and nephew of the prize founder, noted that Ware had actively campaigned against nuclear weapons for 25 years, while Obama had yet to translate words into action.
“We have a window of opportunity with Obama opening up to the possibility of nuclear disarmament,” Ole von Uexkull said. “He will have the opportunity to take concrete steps now and I hope that he will do it.”
Hamlin, 85, moved to Ethiopia from Australia in 1959 to work as an obstetrician and gynecologist. Hamlin and her late husband founded a hospital where women can seek free treatment for obstetric fistulas, which are holes that develop between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum that can develop during long and difficult births.
They are common in Africa and other developing countries where prenatal care is limited.
Women with fistula experience incontinence and often give birth to a stillborn baby. Untreated, fistula can also lead to chronic medical problems, including ulcerations, kidney disease and nerve damage in the legs.
The Right Livelihood Foundation said the winners “demonstrate concretely what has to be done in order to tackle climate change, rid the world of nuclear weapons and provide crucial medical treatment to the poor and marginalized.”
The awards will be presented in a ceremony at the Swedish Parliament on Dec. 4, six days before the Nobel Prizes are handed out.