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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai - 2004-10-15

Broadcast: October 18, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai says poor women can fight poverty and help the environment by planting trees. In December, she will receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to save the forests of Africa.

Wangari Maathai is the twelfth woman since nineteen oh one to win the prize. Last year the Norwegian Nobel Committee also recognized a woman, Shirin Ebadi of Iran. She is a lawyer who has fought for human rights for women.

But this is the first time the peace prize will go to an African woman. It is also the first time someone within the environmental movement has been recognized at such a high level. The Nobel Committee said: "Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment."

In nineteen seventy-seven, Wangari Maathai started the Green Belt Movement. The goal is to plant trees all over Africa, to replace those cut down over the years. Trees are the main source of cooking fuel. Trees also protect wildlife. And they keep nutrients in the soil and help prevent flooding.

Today the program operates in a number of countries. A reported thirty million trees have been planted.

Young trees are grown from seeds at thousands of nurseries. The Green Belt Movement gives these young trees to communities. Locally trained people advise women farmers about planting and taking care of the trees. The movement pays farmers for every tree that survives. Later the women can use some of the trees for fuel.

Professor Maathai is sixty-four years old. She studied in the United States and Kenya. She is believed to have been the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She became a professor of animal science at the University of Nairobi. But her activism angered the former government in Kenya. She was beaten and arrested.

Now, she is assistant minister of environment, natural resources and wildlife.

But she does not speak out only about the environment. In August, she called the AIDS virus a biological weapon to control black people. Later, she said her comments were meant to get people to ask questions and not think of AIDS as a "curse from God."

Wangari Maathai will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December tenth. She will also receive almost one point four million dollars in prize money.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Gary Garriott. This is Gwen Outen.