Assembly President mourns passing of Nobel laureate and green campaigner

General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser today added his voice to those of other top United Nations officials mourning the death of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Africa’s foremost environmental campaigners.

Professor Maathai, who was also a UN Messenger of Peace with special focus on the environment and climate change, died on Sunday in Nairobi, Kenya. She was 71.

Mr. Al-Nasser said in a statement issued by his spokesperson that Professor Maathai’s death was a “great loss, not only to Kenyans but also to the UN family and the millions of people she inspired through her successful campaigns as an advocate for justice, women’s issues and good governance.”

The Assembly President cited Professor Maathai’s work as a founder of the Green Belt Movement, which engaged thousands of rural Kenyan women to plant trees to improve their livelihoods by giving them better access to clean water, firewood for cooking and other resources.

The movement has now planted an estimated 45 million trees as part of global efforts to tackle deforestation.

UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark said Professor Maathai’s legacy of fighting poverty “through empowering women and protecting the environment” was one that the entire world needed to carry on implementing.

Joan Clos, the Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), paid tribute to the dedication shown by the Professor in all of her work.

“It demonstrates that she lived for peace and the dignity of mankind,” he said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner and Jan McAlpine, the Director of the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests, have also expressed their sorrow at the death of Professor Maathai, who was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.