New York, Sep 26 (IBNS) The United Nations on Monday paid tribute to Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Africa's foremost environmental campaigners, who died on Sunday.
Ms. Maathai, 71, was the founder of the Green Belt Movement that encouraged women in rural Kenya to plant trees to improve their livelihoods through better access to clean water, firewood for cooking and other resources.
Since then, the Movement has planted over 30 million trees in Africa and assisted nearly 900,000 women to establish tree nurseries and plant trees to reverse the effects of deforestation.
She was also a patron of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the inspiration behind the agency's Billion Tree Campaign that encourages people across the world to plant trees for the benefit of their communities.
"Wangari Maathai was a force of nature," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a news release. "While others deployed their power and life force to damage, degrade and extract short term profit from the environment, she used hers to stand in their way, mobilize communities and to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction.
"She was, like the acacias and the Prunus Africana trees Wangari fought so nobly and assiduously to conserve, strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions," he added.
Born near Nyeri in Kenya's Central Highlands in 1940, Wangari Maathai received her education in Kenya and the United States. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, obtaining it from the University of Nairobi in 1971.
In 2002, she was elected to Kenya's parliament and appointed Assistant Minister for environment and natural resources.
Ms. Maathai was recognized for her lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women with the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, the first African women and first environmentalist to receive the prestigious honour.
More recently, she served as a UN Messenger of Peace as well as a member of the MDG Advocacy Group, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set up last year to advance progress on the Millennium Development Goals of slashing hunger, poverty, disease and lack of access to education by 2015.