10 Asian Environmentalists to Watch

Jul 15, 2011
*Special to asia!
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With our physical environment increasingly threatened, it has become essential to recognise that even a single person is capable of making a big difference.

Most conservation efforts in Nepal fail to demonstrate the interconnectedness of people and the natural world; instead, many such efforts seem irrelevant to local people. Lacking an understanding of how their actions fit into a larger whole, or of how they can profit from their environment, people who live along wetland peripheries continue to devalue wetlands. For example, little children steal the eggs of endangered birds just for play.

Rajendra is changing the way people view wetlands and, in the process, enabling them to see the correlation between their own health and livelihood and that of the wetlands. Rajendra encourages farmers living along the periphery of wetlands to see these areas both as an addition to their current resource base and as the key to allowing them to move to the next level of economic independence.

He teaches the locals who live along the periphery of the wetlands, as well as the sanctuary's millions of visitors, to respect, protect and profit from the wetlands. Rajendra and his staff involve local people in the management of the sanctuaries and in the conservation of resources in the surrounding areas.



Ritwick Dutta


Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment

Before Environmental Law became a household word, Ritwick was already breaking frontiers in its field and challenging some of the most powerful people in his country. Through a process he calls “environmental democracy”, Ritwick gives ordinary citizens in India an unprecedented voice in the authorisation of major infrastructure projects. Working with partner environmental groups and communities in India's leading biodiversity “hotspots”, he trains residents to read and interpret the complex legal reviews that accompany each project, giving them the tools to understand the immediate and long-term implications of proposed developments. He then works to demystify pertinent laws and processes for legal action, empowering citizens to take full advantage of the country's legal system.

India’s unprecedented economic boom has fuelled a considerable rise in large-scale infrastructure projects across the country, ranging from big dams that generate energy and support irrigation systems, to the construction of new highways and airports. Meanwhile, industrial demand for resources continues to grow, increasing the number of mining and forest clearing projects across the country.



Suwimon Piriyathanalai


Protection of the communities’coastal resources and livelihoods has long been a source of conflict in Thailand’s southernmost provinces. Suwimon is determined to work with the Muslim Malays, a traditionally marginalised group, to develop a non-violent channel to defend their rights to fish and protect coastal resources.

Suwimon is using her integration and work experience to encourage local communities and officials to work together. By building strong and well-informed community associations, she is increasing the capacity of coastal Malay Muslims to defend their interests and negotiate effectively with the state and other actors. These community associations play a key role in protecting the coastal environment, preventing violent conflicts over coastal resources, and making the residents less vulnerable to the pressure of recruitment efforts of armed groups in the region – a first step towards establishing peace in the region.



Toto Sugito


Bike 2 Work


Toto Sugito is building a bike riding movement, Bike 2 Work, to reduce air pollution and improve city transportation in Indonesia. B2W’s goal is to introduce biking as an easy and healthy means of transportation by pushing for local governments to create bike lanes and storage places, providing a motivational support network of cyclists, and giving people access to safe, affordable and convenient bikes. Toto is successfully bridging the gap between public issues such as pollution and health problems and individual lifestyles, encouraging people to recognise their individual role in larger social problems and participate in collective action towards solving these problems.




Yuyun Ismawati




Solid waste has grown into a major problem in urban areas throughout Indonesia. The public service of waste removal and disposal has until now been urban-based, the responsibility of local governments. But over the past 35 years, there has not been any city authority in the country that has properly managed or successfully provided public waste management and sanitation services.

That’s where Yuyun steps in. A first-class innovator and environmental engineer by training, she is developing a decentralised, community-based waste management system that brings privatisation of public services to small-scale providers. Working in Bali, she has gained the cooperation of large businesses like hotels and restaurants, sanitation workers (including garbage collectors and scavengers), and local governments and communities to actively support environmentally responsible solid waste management. Yuyun is convincing local communities that solid waste is one public resource that should not be outsourced to mega-companies but should be managed practically and efficiently to benefit the local people, businesses and the tourist industry; while relieving some of the burden from the local government.

Yuyun sees significant pressure on regional government to outsource public services like waste management. Numerous foreign-owned companies are vying to secure contracts for sanitation and waste management in places like Bali, an international tourist centre. Their capital-intensive approaches displace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the informal sector.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

Contact Debby