- Peace Prize laureate and Kenya's Deputy Minister for Environment, Wangari Maathai, is hailed by the World Bank for her efforts to preserve the environment and empowering women. Professor Maathai's work demonstrates the importance of these two issues for poverty reduction and the preservation of peace, mirrored in the landmark decision by the Oslo Nobel Committee last month.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn this week wrote a congratulatory letter to Ms Maathai, saying he had followed her work for a long time, even before the Kenyan activist became world famous last month. In his letter, Wolfensohn congratulated the Nobel Prize winner on behalf of the entire staff of the Bank.
- I have followed Kenyan affairs closely for many years, wrote Mr Wolfensohn, and I "have long admired your many achievements in helping to preserve the environment, as a champion for women's rights, as a leader in the fight against corruption and abusive government, and for the reduction of the debt of poverty-stricken nations," the World Bank President said.
This year marks the first time that the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the Peace Price as a result of actions to preserve the environment, and it is also the first prize for an African woman. "This Nobel Prize is an immensely important step forward for African women, as well as for the cause of the environment," commented Mr Wolfensohn. "It will be a continuing source of pride to your fellow Kenyans and for Africans across the continent," he added.
The congratulatory letter from Mr Wolfensohn was presented to Ms Maathai during a courtesy call on her by the World Bank's Kenya Country Director, Makhtar Diop. According to the Bank, Ms Maathai during her conversation with Mr Diop "hailed the Bank for its long-standing support of environmental issues and for sticking with her through tough years of environmental campaigning."
She praised the World Bank's commitment to environmental protection, saying, "Mr Wolfensohn has been very supportive of us even when things were very difficult here." She recalled her visits to Bank headquarters for meetings and to deliver lectures: "It has been a joy to communicate and share views, and I have some great friends at the World Bank," she said.
Ms Maathai further said she was pleased that the Nobel Committee had recognised the vital link between what she called the "three pillars of development;" environmental sustainability, democratic governance, and human rights. "This is like the three stones of the traditional African cooking stove. You need all three to get balance."
Commenting on the links between environmental issues and securing peace, she said many conflicts in Africa have been fuelled by clashes over environmental resources. "You will not have peace if you do not manage your resources," the Kenyan Minister observed. "Our communities need to rediscover that forests are a source of our livelihood."
She said she was leading an initiative bringing together communities and a cross section of interest groups to encourage participatory management of forests. The project will include commercial activities in forests such as bee keeping and ecotourism, and examine ways of ensuring energy and food security of neighbouring communities.
Mr Diop told Minister Maathai that the World Bank would launch in November an analytical study of the forest sector to provide technical assistance to the government's forest reform initiative. The objective of the Economic and Sector Work (ESW) would be to assist Kenya's government to address some of the difficult policy issues it is facing in its attempts to provide a sustainable approach to forest management.
The Bank's Kenya representative added that the sector studies would also find ways to assist the government respond to increasing pressure from local communities and various forest industries to gain access to forest resources. The study was to "help Kenya to develop a sound framework for reforms in the sector, in anticipation of the passing in parliament of an impending forestry bill," Mr Diop said.
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