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‘Protecting nature, building peace’: Indigenous activist wins prestigious award

© Conservation International

From the deserts of Chad to the halls of the United Nations, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim has been a tireless advocate for indigenous peoples in the fight to solve the climate crisis. 

In recognition of her unrelenting efforts, Ibrahim, Conservation International’s Senior Indigenous Fellow, was recently awarded the 2019 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award presented by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

“The voices of indigenous people are being heard here — through me, through all of you and through this prize,” said Ibrahim after receiving the award, which included a US$ 100,000 prize. “We are all together. We will win this battle; I am so confident.”

A member of the Mbororo indigenous community of southern Chad, Ibrahim saw the adverse impacts of climate breakdown from a young age. As semi-nomadic herders, the Mbororo people historically migrated close to Lake Chad during the dry season in search of water for their cattle. But over the past 50 years, the lake has shrunk by more than 90 percent — from 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles) to less than 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles).

As the lake dries up, internal conflict among communities in Chad and neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria is intensifying due to competition for access to this shared water source.

To engage communities across these countries in collaboration — rather than conflict — Ibrahim developed a three-dimensional mapping system of the region, which enables people from different communities to share their knowledge of natural resources in the area. With these maps, communities can more readily locate and share critical resources such as fresh water.      

“I’m from a region where people can fight for a piece of land, because their survival — and the survival of their family — depends on it,” said Ibrahim, explaining her mission. “When communities learn to map, protect and share natural resources, all together, they are not only protecting nature, they are also building peace.”  

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Cover image: A portrait of Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. (© Conservation International)

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