Cuba Wins Global 500 Prize
By Patricia Grogg*
Two organizations on the island received the United Nations award for their ''notable contribution'' to the preservation of the environment
HAVANA - Two Cuban organizations received the Global 500 award granted by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to individuals and institutions that have made major contributions toward the care and preservation of the environment.
Cubasolar and the José Martí Pioneers Organization received the award June 5, World Environment Day, alongside other people and groups from Australia, Canada, China, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Japan, Lesotho, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.
The efforts of the non-governmental Cubasolar (Cuban Society for the Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and Respect for the Environment) brought solar-produced electricity to some 1,600 rural schools, 300 medical offices and three villages.
The group was also behind the construction of mini-hydroelectric dams and aqueducts for irrigation systems, engineer Luis Biarriz, president of Cubasolar, told Tierramérica.
One of Cubasolar's projects was decisive for the development of San Antonio del Sur, a town in the eastern province of Guantánamo, the region that receives the least rainfall on the island - and is the poorest as a result.
The construction of a gravity-operated aqueduct, extending from the mountains into the valley, means that the formerly arid lands are now irrigated and produce grasses for the livestock of San Antonio del Sur.
This city of less than 40,000 inhabitants now has ''a totally different landscape from the one I knew years ago, and now people can work towards self sufficiency in producing vegetables, milk and meat, and even send these products to nearby towns,'' commented Biarriz.
In addition, the electricity produced by the mini-dams and by solar panels has had ''amazing'' social impacts in the mountainous areas and other isolated areas, he added.
The people who have benefited from these projects have seen that, by using renewable energy sources and protecting the environment, it is possible to improve living standards and achieve ''true development,'' stated the Cubasolar president.
Cubasolar publishes the scientific magazine ''Energy and You'' for secondary and university students and its Solar Network allows the organization to present conferences and specialized courses on energy and the environment over the Internet.
The island's other Global 500 recipient, the José Martí Pioneers Organization, with its 1.4 million members ages six to 14, has played a vital role in creating environmental awareness among Cuba's younger generations.
''The environment is everything, the air we breathe, the water we drink - that is why we should take care of it,'' said pioneer Lillian Tápanes, 11, a student at the Raúl Gómez García primary school in Havana.
The pioneers collect recyclable materials, plant trees, take part in school clean-up efforts and participate in contests and festivals related to the environment.
''This prize commits us to working even harder for the environment. We feel very proud'' of the Global 500 award, commented Tápanes.
More than 700 individuals and organizations worldwide have received the Global 500 since the UNEP created the prize in 1987 to promote the example of those who work to preserve the environment.
Among the notable winners in the past are the French sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, who died in 1997, and Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rubber-tapper who was assassinated in 1988 during his fight to save the Amazon forest.
The Cuban capital this year served as host city, along with the Italian city of Turin, for the main festivities of World Environment Day, established in 1972 by the UN General Assembly.
The June 5 celebrations in Cuba - carried out under the slogan ''Connect Yourself to the World Wide Web of Life'' - included the planting of 2001 trees, a massive clean-up campaign, art exhibitions, scientific conferences, and a bicycle tour of the length of the island.
* Patricia Grogg is an IPS correspondent