Dr. Wangari Maathai an Environmental Hero, Dies at 71

09/26/2011 07:34 PM

Global Footprint Network regrets the passing of Ms. Wangari Maathai, Advisory Council Member and Green Activist

Dr. Wangari Maathai, Kenya’s 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate died in Nairobi while undergoing cancer treatment at age 71.

Prof. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for starting a movement to reforest Kenya by paying poor women plant trees. She started the Green Belt Movement in 1977, working with women to improve their livelihoods by increasing their access to resources like firewood for cooking and clean water. She became a great advocate for better management of natural resources and for sustainability, equity, and justice. The Green Belt Movement has now planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.

She was an elected Minister in the Kenyan government from 2002- 2008.  She fought tirelessly for sustainable development, democracy and peace. “Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” stated Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nation’s environmental program to the New York Times. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”

She was an extraordinary woman who stood up to authority for decades, as an activist and a champion for a greener world.

In her speech accepting the Nobel Prize, Ms Maathai said she hoped her own success would spur other women on to a more active role in the community. “I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership,” she said.

Former U.S. vice president Al Gore also paid tribute saying, “Wangari overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service—service to her children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya—and to the world as a whole. She was a warm and devoted mother and I send my condolences to her family.  She worked tirelessly both as an elected Member of Parliament and an Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.  She forged new ground for women in Kenya helping shatter what we would call the ‘glass ceiling’ in the United States.”

“Africa, particularly African women, have lost a champion, a leader, an activist. We’re going to miss her. We’re going to miss the work she’s been doing all these years on the environment, working for women’s rights and women’s participation,” said President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said to the BBC. There are calls for her legacy to live on.

Dr. Wangari Maathai was a member of Global Footprint Networks’ Advisory Board since it was formed in 2003. She will be sadly missed.



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