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Somali activist wins Champion of the Earth award

Somali activist wins Champion of the Earth award

Nov 11, 2014

According to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) release,  Fatima Jibrell, one of Africa’s leading environmental activists became the first Somali to win the UN’s top environmental accolade, the Champion of the Earth award.

Stirred by the devastation caused by the civil war in Somalia, Jibrell founded the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Organization in 1991, now known as Adeso – a non-profit organisation operating in South Sudan, Somalia and Northern Kenya – to bring environmental and social justice to war-torn regions and communities.

Her work has been instrumental in ending the charcoal trade in Northeastern Somalia, which had been decimating the region’s acacia tree population. Through Adeso’s Pastoralist Youth Program thousands of young people – 80 per cent of whom are girls – have been equipped with new skills to better conserve environmental resources and to become more self-reliant, through enhanced rural livelihoods and peace.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said, “I am delighted to announce Fatima Jibrell as a Champion of the Earth. She is driven by the belief that community-led change is the key route to a more prosperous, peaceful, and environmentally sound future and a key driver of environmental change.”

“For the last twenty years, Jibrell has mobilised local and international resources to protect Somalia’s pastoral way of life and the fragile environment upon which so many livelihoods depend. In particular, Jibrell has fought tirelessly against the charcoal trade, which has decimated ancient acacia trees in Somalia.”

“Her courage and commitment to fight for environmental and social justice under the most distressful of circumstances shines light on the resilience of the human spirit and the difference one person can make to bring about positive change and hope to communities at large,” he added.

Fatima Jibrell said, “I am honoured to receive this award. It’s really going to raise the profile of the work that Adeso continues to do in many parts of East Africa.”

“Empowering communities to responsibly conserve and manage their natural resource base – such as the acacia tree and rangelands in the case of Northeastern Somalia – is instrumental to enhancing rural livelihoods. This award provides us with even more motivation to continue striving for peace and prosperity in conflict prone communities. Hopefully it will also bring more attention and resources to support the preservation of Somalia’s natural environment.”

As a result of Jibrell’s lobbying and education efforts, the Puntland government in 2000 prohibited the exportation of charcoal. The government has also since enforced the ban, which has reportedly led to an 80 per cent drop in exports of the product.

Over the years, Adeso has helped over a million people through its humanitarian and development efforts. During the 2011-2012 famine in Somalia, Adeso reached over half a million people through unconditional cash transfers to allow them to meet their immediate food and non-food needs. Last year in Kenya, close to 15,000 people accessed tools, seeds and training to increase their land’s yield and feed their families.

Jibrell’s efforts to improve the livelihoods of local communities and to protect the fragile environments were recognized in 2002 when she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. In 2007, she was awarded the National Geographic/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation.

The award is the United Nations flagship environmental prize launched in 2005. It recognizes outstanding visionaries and leaders in the fields of policy, science, entrepreneurship, and civil society action.

Winners of UNEP’s 2014 Champions of the Earth Award include:

H.E. Tommy Remengesau, Jr. President of Palau; H.E. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Sixth President of the Republic of Indonesia; Sir Robert Watson, eminent environmental scientist; Sylvia Earle, Ocean Explorer and Conservationist; the US Green Building Council; Boyan Slat, Founder of The Ocean Clean-up Initiative and Mario Molina, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and a leading scientist behind the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer.

The award covers the following categories: Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision, Lifetime Awardees, Science and Innovation, and Inspiration and Action.

Winners will be honoured by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at an awards ceremony attended by UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bundchen at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. on 19 November 2014.

For more information on UNEP’s Champions of the Earth visit

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