Indonesian wins international prize for river clean-up

Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:35am EDT
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SURABAYA, Indonesia (Reuters Life!) - A biologist who enlisted schoolchildren in his fight to clean up an Indonesian river that led to an international prize said he hoped young people will do more for the environment.

Student research into a 41 km (25 mile) stretch of the Surabaya river that flows through Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, prompted 35-year-old Prigi Arisandi into discoveries that helped him become one of six winners of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest award for grassroots environmentalists.

Arisandi found that the river, which provides water for 3 million and is also used for bathing by people living along its banks, was contaminated with high levels of toxic effluent. Recently, mercury levels were found to be 100 times the limit set by the World Health Organization.

He and other activists created the first environmental education program in the region in 2000 to educate local communities about biodiversity and water pollution, teaching students about the dangers and using them to spread the word.

"These students are the victims of pollution," Arisandi told Reuters at his Surabaya office last week, in an embargoed interview.

"We place these children as agents of change ... We bring them to the river and there are already thousands of children that we have trained."

Arisandi and other activists have also taken legal action to stop companies from polluting the river and won a case against East Java's governor, who was ordered to reduce pollution.

The $150,000 prize, named after husband and wife philanthropists from San Francisco, honors individuals for sustained efforts to protect the natural environment, "often at great personal risk," according to the prize's website.

The other 2011 winners are from the United States, Zimbabwe, Germany, Russia and El Salvador.

(Reporting by Telly Nathalia and Reuters TV; Editing by Alan Raybould and Elaine Lies)