bangladesh: focus on Rizwana Hasan and BELA
Rizwana received this year's Asia region award for her public interest work in the conservation of the environment, specifically in the country's environmentally devastating ship-breaking industry.
Established in 1989, the Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded annually to environmental advocates from six continental regions and is the largest award of its kind with a cash prize of $150,000.
Rizwana has focused much of her work on the Bangladeshi ship-breaking industry. As one of the only countries in the world that continues to have a flourishing ship-breaking industry, Bangladesh is loaded with labour discrepancies and environmental hardships as a result of the trade. Broken down ships are sent from around the world and taken apart by workers who are often paid less than a dollar a day for scraps, and labour laws are rarely enforced. Furthermore, the collapsed ships release toxic chemicals into the environment, polluting ecosystems and threatening the unprotected workers' lives.
As the chief executive of BELA, Rizwana has focused on both workers' rights within the ship-breaking trade as well as the halting of the detrimental environmental effects of the industry. Six years ago, she filed an important petition with the Bangladeshi Supreme Court seeking to prevent decommissioned ships from entering Bangladesh unless they were certified to be free of toxic substances as well as to prohibit further ship-breaking activities unless the government guaranteed protection for the workers and the environment. Although Rizwana does not condemn the ship-breaking industry altogether, her goal has been to make sure that the ships’ toxic materials have been disposed of before landing in Bangladesh and that the workers are protected and compensated fairly for their efforts.
successes and future goals
Years of hard work and advocacy have finally paid off for BELA. In March 2009, the Supreme Court laid down strict regulations on the industry, resulting in the closure of 36 ship breaking yards operating without environmental clearance. The court also ruled it would impose restrictions on the import of Greenpeace listed contaminated ships and require strict regulations on the cleaning and decontamination of all imported ships. In its ruling it stated that a committee will oversee the implementation of these orders.
Although this is a huge victory for Rizwana and the team at BELA, the organisation plans to continue their efforts to make sure the rulings are enforced. The groups also continue advocacy on other environmental issues, such as wetlands preservation, regulation of commercial shrimp farming, traditional forest rights preservation, vehicular pollution, and industrial pollution.