The 2009 Right Livelihood Awards: Wake-up calls to secure our common future
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The Right Livelihood Award Jury gave the following motivation for its choice of laureates:
"Despite the scientific warnings about the imminent threat and disastrous impacts of climate change and despite our knowledge about solutions, the global response to this crisis is still painfully slow and largely inadequate. At the same time, the threat from nuclear weapons has by no means diminished, and the treatable diseases of poverty shame our common humanity."
"The 2009 Right Livelihood Award Recipients demonstrate concretely what has to be done in order to tackle climate change, rid the world of nuclear weapons, and provide crucial medical treatment to the poor and marginalised."
The 2009 Right Livelihood Awards go to four recipients:
David Suzuki (Honorary Award, Canada) "for his lifetime advocacy of the socially responsible use of science, and for his massive contribution to raising awareness about the perils of climate change and building public support for policies to address it".
David Suzuki is one of the most brilliant scientists, and communicators about science, of his generation. Through his books and broadcasts, which have touched millions of people around the world, he has stressed the dangers, as well as the benefits, of scientific research and technological development. He has campaigned tirelessly for social responsibility in science. For the past 20 years, he has been informing the world about the grave threat to humanity of climate change and about how it can be reduced.
Life and career choices
David Suzuki was born in Canada in March 1936 to parents of Japanese descent. Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, the family was interned, and later, after the war, settled in Ontario. With a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago, Suzuki went to the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1963, where he became Professor of Zoology six years later, specialising in genetics.
During his scientific work, Suzuki became more and more concerned about both the relationship between science and society, and the impacts of human activities on the natural world. He says: "After a great deal of soul-searching I concluded that all scientific insight has the potential to be applied for good or bad and the only way to minimise the misapplication of science is an informed public." While continuing his university professorships until 2001, Suzuki gave up his laboratory research in the late 70s to become one of the most important communicators of natural science in the world and "an environmental icon" as the 2005 Right Livelihood Award Recipient Tony Clarke has described him.
From 1979 until today, Suzuki has been the anchorman of "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki", a prime time science programme on Canadian television, which has been sold to more than 80 countries. He has produced numerous other TV shows and series, and has written 43 books, whereof 17 for children.
The David Suzuki Foundation
In 1988, Suzuki's 5-part radio series about the global ecosystem crisis, It's a Matter of Survival, produced letters from 16,000 listeners asking what could be done. Suzuki's response was to set up, in 1990, with his wife, Dr. Tara Cullis, the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). Since its inception, DSF has become a nationally recognized and trusted voice on issues of the environment, one that is increasingly asked to speak on matters of critical importance.
In 2008, the David Suzuki Foundation reviewed its progress over the first two decades of its existence, and decided to focus its future efforts on five key areas.
- 1. Reconnecting with nature - Helping Canadians to become aware of their profound interdependence with nature.
- 2. Protecting natural systems - Working to ensure that systems are in place to protect the diversity and resilience of Canada's marine, freshwater, terrestrial and atmospheric ecosystems.
- 3. Transforming the economy - Encouraging a transition of Canada's economy towards increased well-being, fairness and quality of life, while recognizing the finite limits of nature.
- 4. Living neighbourhoods - Empowering citizens to live healthier, more fulfilled and just lives.
- 5. Protecting our climate - Holding Canada to account for doing its fair share to avoid dangerous climate change.
In 2009, the David Suzuki Foundation had 58 staff members and an annual budget of nearly CND 7 million, which comes from numerous foundations, and tens of thousands of individual supporters.
For many years, Suzuki has been at the forefront of the climate debate, informing the public about the extreme urgency to act which follows from the best scientific evidence in the field, and calling on the Canadian Government to take action. At a speech in 2009 at McGill University, he said: "When you have politicians who are advised by scientists how bad climate change is going to hit, and by economists how bad it is for the economy, and they still do not take action, that is an intergenerational crime." Together with a group of engineers, Suzuki is now working on a study to see if and how Canada can get its energy entirely from renewable sources.
Suzuki on biotech
In his own discipline of genetics, Suzuki has played a crucial role in informing and warning the public about the weak and risky scientific basis of many of today's commercial applications of genetic engineering. With science writer, Peter Knudtson, he wrote of his concerns in Genethics: The Ethics of Engineering Life. In an article Biotechnology: Panacea or Hype? he writes: "Every scientist should understand that in any young, revolutionary discipline, most of the current ideas in the area are tentative and will fail to stand up to scrutiny over time. In other words, the bulk of the latest notions are wrong. The rush to exploit new products will be based on inaccurate hypotheses and questionable benefits and could be downright dangerous. The discipline is far from mature enough to leave the lab or find a niche in the market. The problem is that those pushing its benefits stand to gain enormously from it."
Suzuki's role in Canadian society
An important aspect of Suzuki's and DSF's work is his relationship with Canada's First Nations. He used many of his broadcasts to campaign for their rights of decision over their ancestral resources, and has been formally adopted by three tribes, and made an honorary chieftain of one.
In a 2009 poll on 'Who does Canada Trust Most?' in the Canadian Readers' Digest, Suzuki was ranked no. 1. Suzuki holds a large number of honorary doctorates and has received Canada's highest honour, Companion to the Order of Canada.
"Conventional economics is inevitably destructive and unsustainable because it ignores nature's services as 'externalities'. But nature maintains the biosphere as a healthy place for animals like us. Growth is just a description of the state of a system, yet economists equate growth with progress as if growth is the very purpose of economics. So we fail to ask 'how much is enough?', 'what is an economy for?', 'am I happier with all this stuff?'. Steady growth forever is an impossibility in a finite world and our world is defined by the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land where all life exists. Endless growth within the biosphere is like the goal of cancer within our body. We need to internalize the services of nature in an ecological economics system and work towards 'steady state economics.'" - David Suzuki
René Ngongo (Democratic Republic of Congo) is honoured "for his courage in confronting the forces that are destroying the Congo's rainforests and building political support for their conservation and sustainable use".
The Congo rainforest, in global importance second only to that of the Amazon, is under grave threat from the aftermath of war, population pressure and corporate exploitation. Since 1994, including through the civil war from 1996-2002, René Ngongo has engaged, at great personal risk, in popular campaigning, political advocacy and practical initiatives to confront the destroyers of the rainforest and help create the political conditions that could halt its destruction and bring about its conservation and sustainable use.
Life and career
René Ngongo was born in Goma in October 1961, and took a Bachelor in biology from the University of Kisangani in 1987. It soon became clear to him that the Congo rainforest, the second largest tropical forest in the world, is under very grave threat - both because of the poverty of local people who cut the forest to satisfy their need for food and fuelwood and because of commercial logging and mining.
In 1994 Ngongo founded, and became the national coordinator of, OCEAN (Organisation concertée des ecologistes et amis de la nature). OCEAN started as an environmental NGO in Kisangani, but has managed to reach out to the entire country through the work of volunteers. OCEAN's main activities are agroforestry, urban tree-planting, reforestation nurseries for the most threatened species, distribution of improved cooking stoves, monitoring of the exploitation of natural resources, education, especially through radio and TV broadcasts, and the advocacy and lobbying on local, national and international level.
Ngongo has also worked both for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Since 2008, Ngongo has been working for Greenpeace to build up the new Greenpeace DRC office. He handed over the leadership of OCEAN to a younger colleague and became a member of its Administrative Council instead.
Promoting sustainable land use
The first focus of Ngongo's work was to promote sustainable land use models that would allow the local population to satisfy their need for food and fuelwood, and to receive a better income, without destroying the forest. From 1992 to 2000, Ngongo had a weekly radio programme on nature protection and the impact of deforestation called 'L'Homme et son Environnement - MAZINGIRA'. At the same time, Ngongo developed pedagogical tools and provided trainings for farmers to learn about alternatives to the destructive "slash and burn" agriculture. He created in Kisangani demonstration fields for sustainable agricultural techniques like agroforestry (growing food in the forest without destroying it) and taught locals how to save on fuelwood through improved cooking stoves.
Ngongo also co-ordinated the creation of a seedling plantation with 20,000 seedlings of the most exploited tree species in the Eastern province. This plantation provided trees for several events such as 'green city' (Ville Verte) during which tree planting took place in abandoned parks, along avenues and in schools. Children were actively involved in these events to ensure widespread dissemination of the environmental messages.
Exposing destructive mining and logging
Throughout the wartime years of 1996-2002 Ngongo was actively monitoring the exploitation of natural resources by the different warring parties. Many international organisations and research institutes recognised OCEAN as a key source of information. For instance, Ngongo's research on illegal mining operations (diamonds and other minerals) contributed to the UN Security Council expert panel report on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC. Ngongo is convinced that the struggle for the control over natural resources was the main driving force of the conflicts in the DRC that left millions of people dead.
Since the civil war ended, the destruction of the Congo rainforest has accelerated even more, because the DRC is now safe terrain for the big forestry multinationals to operate. OCEAN became the key organisation exposing irresponsible logging practices as well as weak governance and a lack of transparency in the forest and mining sectors. Not surprisingly, Ngongo has experienced a considerable amount of threats, manipulation and intimidation.
Today, the rainforests of the DRC are at a crossroads. In January 2009, the government finished a legal review of 156 forest concessions (on 20 million hectares) and concluded that 91 of them had been illegal. However, in September 2009, several companies whose contracts had been declared illegal by the joint ministerial commission in January continued their activities in total impunity. Thus, it is one of Ngongo's priorities to campaign for the implementation of the government's decision and for respecting the moratorium on new logging activities in the forests of the DRC. He is arguing that the further destruction of the Congo rainforest would put local communities, who depend on the forest for their livelihoods, at great risk. It would also further accelerate global warming and make the DRC more vulnerable to its effects.
Much of Ngongo's work is dedicated to strengthening the knowledge and capabilities of NGOs, politicians and local authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to effectively protect the forest. He has coordinated training sessions for national and provincial politicians on the forest code. OCEAN is working with local communities affected by road construction projects to make sure that their voices are heard. In addition, Ngongo's ongoing support of grassroots initiatives provided a strong basis for the development of the 'Reseau des Resources Naturelles', a Congolese umbrella organisation for civil society groups working on mining and forestry issues. Ngongo has also organised many consultations with politicians, donors and industry representatives to promote sustainable forestry practices.
"The forests of the DR Congo and the Congo Basin, the planet's second 'lung', are a precious heritage that should be preserved. Those forests should not be considered merely as raw material to be exported and should neither only be seen as a carbon reservoir. Before anything else, it is a living environment, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a spiritual landmark for millions of forest communities and aboriginal peoples, those who are our forest's main guardians. Destroying the forest means destroying lifestyles that are worth as much as others... Those extraordinary forests, with a unique biodiversity, also represent a major asset for the DRC and the entire planet when it comes to the fight against climate change. Valorising them as standing forests brings about a quarter of the answer on how to defuse the threat of climate change. But unfortunately, with 13 million hectares disappearing each year, what future are we handing over to future generations? And in the meantime, so many meetings, speeches, good intentions... It is time to act and mobilise the necessary resources in order to guarantee an ecologically responsible and socially balanced future for our forests..." - René Ngongo
Alyn Ware (New Zealand) is recognised "for his effective and creative advocacy and initiatives over two decades to further peace education and to rid the world of nuclear weapons".
Alyn Ware is one of the world's most effective peace workers, who has led key initiatives for peace education and nuclear abolition in New Zealand and internationally over the past 25 years. He helped draft the Peace Studies Guidelines that became part of the New Zealand school curriculum, initiated successful programmes in schools and thousands of classrooms throughout the country, and has served as an adviser to the NZ government and the UN on disarmament education. He was active in the campaign that prohibited nuclear weapons in New Zealand, before serving as the World Court Project UN Coordinator which achieved a historic ruling from the World Court on the illegality of nuclear weapons. Alyn Ware has led the efforts to implement the World Court's decision, including drafting resolutions adopted by the UN, bringing together a group of experts to prepare a draft treaty on nuclear abolition which is now being promoted by the UN Secretary General, and engaging parliamentarians around the world through Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
From kindergarten teacher to the United Nations
Alyn Ware was born in New Zealand in March 1962. He acquired a Bachelor of Education and a Diploma of Kindergarten Teaching from Waikato University in 1983. After a year of kindergarten teaching, Alyn established the Mobile Peace Van Society and for five years taught and co-ordinated all aspects of its peace education programme in pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools. This included teaching in hundreds of classrooms; training teachers; co-founding the Cool Schools Peer Mediation Programme, initiating War Toy Amnesty events, launching Our Planet in Every Classroom; distributing teaching resources to every school through the School Journal; and working with the Department of Education to develop the Peace Studies Guidelines.
During that time Alyn was also active in the campaign to make New Zealand nuclear-weapon free. This included chairing the Hamilton nuclear-weapon-free zone committee, co-founding Peace Movement Aotearoa and leading the 1987 Peace Walk for a Nuclear Free New Zealand. In 1998 he travelled to the USA and USSR to share New Zealand's successful anti-nuclear campaigns with nuclear disarmament initiatives and organisations in those countries.
In 1990 he established the Gulf Peace Team office in New York and lobbied the UN Security Council on peaceful solutions to the Gulf Crisis. In 1991 he worked for the World Federalist Movement monitoring developments at the UN on the proposed International Criminal Court in preparation for the launch of the Coalition for an International Criminal Court (CICC) - which was successful in establishing the ICC. Alyn led the CICC Working Group on Weapons Systems during the ICC negotiations.
From 1992-99 he was the Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), in which capacity he was also the World Court Project UN Co-ordinator. Under his leadership, the project was successful in getting the General Assembly to adopt a resolution requesting an opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of nuclear weapons. He also assisted a number of countries in their cases to the International Court of Justice in order to ensure a successful outcome. In its opinion, the Court declared the threat or use of nuclear weapons to be generally illegal and laid down a general obligation of states to achieve complete nuclear disarmament under international control.
Current positions and peace initiatives
In 1999, after helping establish a human rights presence in East Timor and Indonesia under Peace Brigades International, Alyn returned to New Zealand to take advantage of the peace and disarmament opportunities arising with the new Labour government under Prime Minister Helen Clark. Although based in New Zealand, this work required extensive travel, particularly to North America, Europe and Asia. This included ongoing work at the United Nations including the drafting and presentation to the UN Security Council of a Judges and Lawyers' Appeal on the Illegality of the Preventive use of Force - one of the initiatives which helped ensure that the UN Security Council did not authorise the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Alyn currently holds the positions of:
Director of the Wellington office of the Peace Foundation, a peace education activity in New Zealand schools and communities;
Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau, in which he is most active on their Disarmament for Development Program;
Consultant to the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) for which he is responsible for the programmes promoting Nuclear Weapon Free Zones and a Nuclear Weapons Convention;
New Zealand Coordinator of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence which started in New Zealand on 2 October 2009 and is travelling around the world promoting nuclear abolition, an end to war and the prevention of violence at all levels of society;
Co-Founder and International Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), which engages legislators from across the political spectrum in nuclear disarmament issues and initiatives; and Board member or advisor of a number of other international organisations including Abolition 2000, Middle Powers Initiative, Peace Boat, Mayors for Peace and the Global Campaign for Peace Education.
Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament
In 2002, Alyn established Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), a project of the Global Security Institute and the Middle Powers Initiative. PNND educates and engages parliamentarians in initiatives at the national, regional and international levels.
At the national level, Alyn helps legislators to draft parliamentary resolutions, engage in parliamentary debates, provide input into national policy decisions, adopt legislation, and participate in civil society actions and initiatives relating to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
At the regional level, Alyn ensures that PNND is active in the development of nuclear-weapon-free zones, and in reducing the role of nuclear weapons in alliances such as NATO, ANZUS (Australia and the US) and the Japan-US and South Korea-US alliances.
At the international level, Alyn leads PNND activities to engage parliamentarians in key bodies such as the UN General Assembly, Conference on Disarmament, UN Security Council and NPT Review Conferences. PNND also assists parliamentarians to be active on specific issues and initiatives including nuclear testing, fissile materials, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and achievement of a nuclear weapons convention.
Advancing a Nuclear Weapons Convention
In 1995 Alyn co-founded Abolition 2000, an international network now numbering over 2000 endorsing organisations that calls for negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention - a treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons under effective international control. Following the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Alyn drafted a UN resolution on implementation of the ICJ opinion through negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Since then, this resolution has attracted every year the votes of some 125 countries in the UN General Assembly - including from the New Agenda Countries (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden), the Non-Aligned Movement, and some of the nuclear-weapons possessing countries - China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
Alyn then brought together a group of experts to draft a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention - a 70-page document outlining the legal, technical and political measures required to achieve and sustain a nuclear-weapons-free world. This Model Nuclear Weapon Convention has been circulated and promoted by the UN Secretary-General.
Ware is also one of two principal authors of the book Securing our Survival: the Case for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, published by IPPNW and distributed to diplomats, academics, scientists, parliamentarians, mayors, non-governmental organisations and media around the world.
The links between peace education in schools and international peace
Alyn Ware believes that his peace education work in schools and his international peace and disarmament work are intricately linked. He says:
"The principles of peace are the same whether it be in school, at home, in the community or internationally. These are primarily about how to solve our conflicts in win/win ways, i.e. in ways that meet all peoples' needs. My kindergarten teaching was thus good training for my international peace and disarmament work. And when I am back in the classroom, I can help students see that the ideas and approaches they are using to solve their conflicts are similar to the ideas and approaches we use at the United Nations to solve international conflicts." - Alyn Ware
Catherine Hamlin (Ethiopia) is awarded "for her fifty years dedicated to treating obstetric fistula patients, thereby restoring the health, hope and dignity of thousands of Africa's poorest women".
Catherine Hamlin came to Ethiopia from Australia in 1959 to work as an obstetrician and gynaecologist at a hospital in Addis Ababa. With her husband Reginald she pioneered the surgical treatment of obstetric fistula. The Hamlins built their own hospital in Addis, where women are treated free of charge. The facilities include reception hostels for the women, who come from all over the country, and a rehabilitation centre for the badly injured. They have also established regional centres to make the treatment more widely accessible and a midwifery school to help prevent obstetric fistula occurring in the first place.
Catherine Hamlin was born in Sydney in January 1924. In 1959, she left Australia together with her husband Reginald in response to an advertisement to work as obstetrician/gynaecologist at a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The couple was horrified by the prevalence of obstetric fistula, a condition arising from prolonged obstructed labour that leaves the affected woman incontinent of urine, with 20% suffering bowel incontinence as well. Permanently leaking bodily fluids, they often become social outcasts, without hope, and live in the most miserable conditions. Obstetric fistula, formerly common throughout the world, is now almost non-existent in industrialized countries, thanks to better obstetric care, but is still prevalent in developing countries.
Pioneering fistula treatment
At the time the Hamlins started their work, there was little treatment available for the condition anywhere in the world, but the Hamlins developed surgical techniques, began to operate on their patients and eventually achieved a 93% success rate. Soon, women started arriving at the hospital from all over the country hoping for the operation. Small hostels were built on the hospital's grounds to accommodate them as they awaited their turn. All treatment was - and still is - free of charge.
Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital
Recognising that they needed their own hospital, the Hamlins went fundraising abroad. Eventually, in 1974, Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was opened. Since then, it has become a global centre of expertise in fistula repair and also trains surgeons. In addition to the main hospital in the capital, there are now, in 2009, five regional hospital centres in other Ethiopian cities to make the treatment more widely accessible. Their doctors treat 2,750 women per year - about 29 % of new fistulas in Ethiopia - and have treated over 32,000 women in total. They have also built Desta Mender - 'Village of Joy' - a rehabilitation centre for women so badly injured that they need long-term care.
Hamlin also focuses on the important area of fistula prevention with the establishment of the Hamlin Midwifery College in Addis Ababa. The midwives will be placed in rural health clinics around the country in order to prevent obstetric fistula in the first place, to raise the quality of care in childbirth generally and to lower the high maternal death rate.
The hospital and associated activities have about 400 staff and cost more than EUR 1 million per year to run. Catherine Hamlin, while still also operating on patients, spends a lot of time travelling the world to raise awareness about the condition and its disastrous effects on the lives of its victims, and to fundraise for her clinics and midwifery school. Funds come from eight international partner organisations (that in Sweden has 70,000 members) and major charities. The Australian Government is also a key supporter.
Honours and books
Hamlin has been awarded many medical honorary fellowships, and a number of civil honours, including Companion of the Order of Australia (1995) and the Rotary Award for Understanding and Peace (1998). In Australia, her book The Hospital by the River became a bestseller.
"Nothing can equal the gratitude of the woman, who wearied by constant pain and desperate with the realization that her very presence is an offence to others, finds suddenly that life has been given anew and that she has once again become a citizen of the world." - Catherine Hamlin chose to quote the British fistula surgeon, Professor Chassar Moir of Oxford, who summed up the ethos of fistula treatment
Watch videos on the 2009 Laureates and their issues HERE
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Wednesday 14 October 2009
“Alternative Nobel” award winners announced
A combination photo of this year’s Right Livelihood Award winners. (From left) David Suzuki, Rene Ngongo, Alyn Warea and Catherine Hamlin (AFP)
Stockholm: Four activists were on Tuesday named co-winners of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award, the so-called “alternative Nobel”, for their work in campaigning against nuclear weapons, protecting the rain forests of Congo, raising awareness about climate change and campaigning for women’s health.
“The overarching topic for this year is survival,” said Ole von Uexkull, director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.
Alyn Ware of New Zealand, Rene Ngongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and David Suzuki of Canada share the award with Australian-born physician Catherine Hamlin. Mr. Ware, Mr. Ngongo and Mr. Hamlin were each to receive €50,000 euros ($73,000) in cash while Mr. Suzuki was to receive an honorary prize.
Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull created the prize in 1980 “to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”.
The awards are to be presented at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament on December 4.
Mr. Ware was cited by the jury for his role in promoting peace work in New Zealand, including drafting peace study guidelines that became part of the school curriculum. Mr. Ngongo has since 1994 braved threats to expose “destructive mining and logging” operations that threaten rain forests, which play a key role in the global climate system. Mr. Suzuki was cited for promoting the “socially responsible use of science” and raising awareness about climate change, not the least as anchorman of a television programme about science. Ms. Hamlin has helped restore “the health, hope and dignity of thousands of Africa’s poorest women,” according to the jury, referring to her efforts to treat complications linked to child birth in Ethiopia.
The 2008 award was shared by: Monika Hauser, founder of the Germany-based group Medica Mondiale, which has worked with women and girls in war and post-war conflict zones; Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan of India and their organisation Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI); U.S. journalist Amy Goodman, who founded the daily grassroots global TV/radio news hour Democracy Now!; and Asha Hagi of Somalia, who gave women a voice in the peace process in Somalia. DPA
Tuesday13 Oct 2009
Four activists share 2009 'Alternative Nobel'
Stockholm - Four activists were Tuesday named co-winners of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award, the so-called "Alternative Nobel," for their work in campaigning against nuclear weapons, protecting the rain forests of Congo, raising awareness about climate change and campaigning for women's health. "The overarching topic for this year is survival," said Ole von Uexkull, director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.
Alyn Ware of New Zealand, Rene Ngongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and David Suzuki of Canada share the award with Australian-born physician Catherine Hamlin.
Ware, Ngongo and Hamlin were each to receive 50,000 euros (73,000 dollars) in cash while Suzuki was to receive an honorary prize.
Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull created the prize in 1980 "to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today."
The awards, which are not connected to the Nobel Prizes endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, are to be presented at a ceremony in the Swedish parliament on December 4.
The jury said the 2009 winners have shown "concretely what has to be done in order to tackle climate change, rid the world of nuclear weapons and provide crucial medical treatment to the poor and marginalised."
In all 82 candidates from 46 countries were nominated this year.
Ware was cited by the jury for his role in promoting peace work in New Zealand, including drafting peace study guidelines that became part of the school curriculum. In 2002, he co-founded the organization Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND).
Ngongo has since 1994 braved threats to expose "destructive mining and logging" operations that threaten the rain forests, which play a key role in the global climate system, the jury said.
"We hope the award will help protect Ngongo," Ole von Uekkull told the German Press Agency dpa. "He receives anonymous calls," and loggers at times approach his boat with their speed boats. "They make it very clear that they know where he is and that they will make life difficult for him."
Suzuki was cited for promoting the "socially responsible use of science" and raising awareness about climate change, not the least as anchorman of a television programme about science.
Hamlin has helped restore "the health, hope and dignity of thousands of Africa's poorest women," according to the jury, referring to her efforts to treat complications linked to child birth in Ethiopia.
The 2008 award was shared by: Monika Hauser, founder of the Germany-based group Medica Mondiale, which has worked with women and girls in war and post-war conflict zones; Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan of India and their organization Land for the Tillers' Freedom (LAFTI); US journalist Amy Goodman, who founded the daily grassroots global TV/radio news hour Democracy Now!; and Asha Hagi of Somalia, who gave women a voice in the peace process in Somalia.