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Project to save Kenyan lake wins St Andrews prize

A project aimed at saving the world’s second largest fresh water lake and its people from environmental hazards was today (Friday 11 May 2001) awarded the prestigious St Andrews Prize, an annual initiative aimed at finding new and inspiring ideas to help the environment.

At an official ceremony in St Andrews, George Odera Outa, from Kenya’s University of Nairobi, was presented with a commemorative medal and a cheque for $25,000.

His aim to deepen the understanding of environmental hazards at Lake Victoria within its rural community, by using popular community theatre techniques, was deemed to fit the prize criteria of practicality, good science, economic reality and political acceptability.

After two days of presentations and debates, a distinguished panel consisting of environmentalists, scientists and industrialists, chose Mr Outa’s entry over two other finalists.

In recent years, Lake Victoria, has been subject to the invasion of the Water Hyacinth, a strange ‘new’ weed, which effectively choked the lake and lead to the threatened livelihoods of the 25 million inhabitants of surrounding areas across East Africa. However, more pressing problems have arrived from the frequent negligence and imprudent use of the lake by the local community, particularly the practice of human and industrial waste disposal. This negligence has been blamed for high manifestations of diseases such as cholera and typhoid in surrounding regions.

Mr Outa proposes to employ innovative theatre techniques to facilitate community participation and a sense of ownership, which would ultimately lead to the presentation of solutions for redressing or reducing the environmental problems within the lake region. His project fits well with the objectives of the Lake Victoria Management Programme (LVEMP), a project spearheaded by the World Bank in an attempt to save Lake Victoria. In his project, Mr Outa recognises the need to work with these largely uneducated rural communities, in educating them of the connections between careless human action and disease. He aims to ensure for the future well-being of Lake Victoria and its inhabitants, by empowering the locals with knowledge and plans for their mutually safe future. The project will target a population of nearly 4 million people who inhabit 250 villages around Lake Victoria.

The concept of using popular theatre (or ‘teaching through entertainment’) in developing support for new initiatives, has been widely demonstrated in Africa and elsewhere, as an alternative channel of communication within communities. The use of song, dance and drama is recognised as a versatile and participatory means of mobilising and educating communities about new projects, without the usual risks of acrimony, rejection or outright project failure.

On behalf of the Prize Panel, Sir Crispin Tickell, Convener of the Government’s Panel on Sustainable Development, said Mr Outa’s project was a worthy winner of the Prize – “This is an imaginative proposal that recognises that when it comes to environmental management and sustainability we have a great deal to learn from the past,” he said.

Mr Outa said: “Winning this prize will undoubtedly help us in our efforts to research and disseminate time-tested wisdoms. We want to bring about more benign and sustainable attitudes towards the environment as a whole – and that includes the whole question of HIV and AIDS.”

The St Andrews Prize, is co- sponsored by the University and international energy company Conoco. This year, the prize attracted almost 100 entrants from 25 countries. Three shortlisted finalists gathered for two days at the University of St Andrews to present their submissions to the Prize Panel.

The runners-up, who each received $5,000, are Kapil Mohan, a civil servant from Mangalore, India, for a “tiles from waste” project in Southern India and Juliet Jenkins, an environmental designer, from Henfield, West Sussex, for a “working wetlands” project.

The prize was judged by an eminent panel of international trustees, chaired by Sir Crispin. They included Professor Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency; Sara Parkin, Director of Forum for the Future; and James Currie, Director-General of DGXI (Environment), European Commission.

ENDS

Further information about the prize and the winning submissions can be obtained from Gayle Cook – contact details below.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01382 562881, mobile 07900 050103 or email gayle.cook@beattie- dundee.co.uk

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