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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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UNDP Equator Initiative Awards Ends with Surprise Announcement

Johannesburg, 31 August— The United Nations Development Programme held its first Equator Initiative Awards last night for community-based partnership initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable development, and, as it turned out, there were more winners than the organizers expected.

The Equator Initiative, a partnership in its own right between UNDP and seven other groups, had intended to award the six best initiatives from a field of 27 a $30,000 prize. But after announcing the six winners, the Nature Conservancy President Steve McCormack announced, in a spontaneous gesture, that it would award all 27 projects the prize of $30,000.

"This caught us all by surprise," according to Jason Spensely, an Institutional Development Specialist with the Nature Conservancy. "It wasn't planned at all," adding that the money would go to the communities to use for further sustainable development.

UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown, who had initially compared the awards ceremony to an Oscar's night, said, "This is a wonderful spontaneous gesture that will live on well beyond the Summit."

From preserving forests in Tanzania to maintaining indigenous knowledge in Brazil, protecting endangered species in Kenya, and restoring marine life in Fiji, the initiatives are examples of successful community initiatives that have promoted income generation while pursuing sustainable development.

"This is what the World Summit on Sustainable Development is all about," according to Malloch Brown. "It's not about the global community talking endlessly about standards and obligations. Sustainable development is done individual-by-individual, community-by-community. It's about confronting common problems in communities by people innovating solutions on their own."

The Equator Initiative concentrates its efforts on the 116 countries lying between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, or 23.5º N and 23.5ºS, where, one of the Initiative's chief organizers, Charles MacNeill, said most of the world's biodiversity is found.

The Initiative started was conceived during conversations between Malloch Brown and United Nations Foundation President Tim Wirth last year. Wirth said the highlighted initiatives were about "great people doing great things around the world."

In addition to UNDP and the UN Foundation, other members of the initiative include BrasilConnects, the International Development Research Centre, IUCN, the government of Canada, TVE and the Nature Conservancy.

From a field of 420 submissions, the field was narrowed to 27 finalists and ultimately, the six winners were unanimously selected by a jury of distinguished personalities. Representatives of all 27 representatives were present at the award dinner, and each received a certificate from Yolanda Kakabadse, President of IUCN, who remarked that "it's funny, coming from Ecuador, we always thought we owned the Equator."

The six winners included the Il Ngewsi Group Ranch in Kenya, a ranch of 499 local households which has been successful in reducing local poverty and conserving biodiversity through ecotourism and the establishment of a community owned trust for local land management. In Tanzania, the Suledo Forest Community has adopted village-based forest management that has helped meet the needs of the community, and in Fiji, the Locally-Managed Marine Area Network has extended its authority to 10 per cent of Fiji's inshore marine area, and has helped boost fish catches.

In Malaysia, the Uma Bawang Resident's Association in Sarawak has used mapping techniques to defend their land claims and has promoted many income generating activities, while in Belize, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment has engaged in sustainable forestry through eco-labeling programmes. And from Brazil, the Green Life Association of Amazonia was honored for its work in developing techniques for the sustainable extraction of the Aniba plant, which is used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.

The Talamanaca Initiative won an award as a World Heritage Site for its work in promoting biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development in the Talamanaca Region of Costa Rica.

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24 August 2006